Pelicans on migration superhighway stir trouble at Israeli fisheries

MISHMAR HASHARON, Israel (Reuters) - Thousands of pelicans on their exhausting journey south this autumn are on the hunt for food, and authorities in Israel have set up pelican-friendly reservoirs to protect commercial fisheries.

Preferring an overland route to riskier skies above the sea, hundreds of millions of birds pass through Israel each migration season - in spring on their way north to Europe and Asia and later in the year back to Africa.

An estimated 45,000 of those are hungry pelicans, among the largest of migrating birds, who have a taste for fish raised by Israeli farmers. This is costly for the farmers and can be dangerous for the pelicans.

One solution is to offer them alternative cuisine in a key location, and about 2.5 tonnes of second-rate fish have been put into a designated pond in Mishmar Hasharon, a communal kibbutz near Israel's Mediterranean coast where the pelicans are welcome to feast.

"The program is aimed at minimising the friction between man and pelican," said Ofir Bruckenstein of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

From this safe haven they can continue their often perilous migration.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel estimates that around half of the up to half a billion birds die during the seasonal journey that covers thousands of kilometers.

Culprits include natural predators as well as human activity, like the destruction of habitats and electrocution by power cables, the group said.

(Reporting by Rami Amichay, editing by Ed Osmond)