The Great Rift Flyway

The Importance of the Great Rift Valley

White Storks

© Eyal Bartov

The Great Rift Valley flyway, linking Europe, Asia, and Africa, is one of the world’s most important bird migration corridors, and the most concentrated and species diverse route for birds migrating between breeding and wintering grounds in Eurasia and Africa. Twice a year, five hundred million birds of 280 species follow this route of passage.

A flyway is an aerial highway birds follow between breeding grounds in the north to wintering areas in the south. This general route includes the array of habitats needed for the species’ life cycles. Many of these habitats are under threat.

Important Bird Areas

The conservation organization BirdLife International has designated over 140 key conservation sites as “Important Bird Areas” (IBAs) within the Great Rift Valley, including over 50 IBAs in the Eastern Rift. The IBA Programme of BirdLife International aims to identify, monitor and protect a global network of IBAs for the conservation of the world’s birds and other biodiversity.

At least 141 species of birds found within the Great Rift Valley are listed as “Globally Threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Great Rift

The Great Rift is a vast geographical and geological feature running some 5,000km from Turkey to Mozambique. A split on the face of the Earth, it varies between thirty to one hundred kilometers wide, and a few hundred to several thousand meters deep. Its steep cliffs and average high temperatures produce ideal conditions for thermals, the moving hot air currents that the raptors and large soaring birds, such as storks, need for their long journeys. Birds dependent on thermals for their migration tend to concentrate in numbers along the best possible routes, causing some migrant populations to become very vulnerable during passage.

About 80,000 Eurasian Cranes (almost the entire world population) winter within the Great Rift Valley. The entire world population of Lesser Spotted Eagles, the entire Palearctic populations of Levant Sparrowhawks and White Pelicans, and significant world populations of White Storks, Cranes and Honey Buzzards, pass through a portion of the Great Rift Valley.

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