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Rare songbird reappears in the Negev after 50 years

Blue-cheeked bee-eater sighting has bird-watchers aflutter in Israel’s Negev Desert area.


Twice every year, some 500 million birds of at least 300 different species pass through Israel on their way to and from breeding grounds in Africa, Asia and Europe. Israeli ornithologists – there are dozens of them around the country – keep a running log of sightings on the Israeli Birding Portal.

In October, the blue-cheeked bee-eater made its first official appearance on that news feed in more than 50 years.

“All of a sudden, from out of nowhere, a flock of some 30-40 blue-cheeked bee-eaters appeared over the Yerucham Lake Park. There was no mistaking them as their colors and calls filled the air,” writes Eyal Shochat, academic manager at Hoopoe-Yerucham Center of Ecology and Ornithology, on the birding portal. “The blue-cheeked bee-eaters are rare spring migrants at Yerucham and this was the first time ever they showed up here in fall, quite a distance from their traditional migration route in the Jordan Valley.”

These colorful birds with bright green plumage happened to fly over Yerucham, a town in the Negev Desert, during a bird-ringing event. Shochat writes in his blog post that as soon as the ornithologists heard the songbirds’ cries, they played recordings of bee-eaters to attract them to the nets they had set up in order to tag other birds. They successfully caught and ringed six of these rare near-passerine birds.

“It seems their arrival was an announcement to us that the mystery of where they’d been all this time was about to be solved,” Shochat posted.

Among the bird-lovers was Nehama Baruch, a resident of Moshav Naveh in the western Negev, who took one look at these colorful songbirds with slender bodies and long beaks, and told the others that these were the same birds she had seen near her


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