The Griffon Vulture is a large and awesome bird of prey, one of the largest and the highest flying of all birds (Nature’s Song, Slifkin, p.222). It is believed by many to be the Nesher (נֶשֶׁר) of the Torah, a bird very often translated instead as Eagle. (As in the moving verse where G-d tells the Jewish people: “I carried you on the wings of Nesharim and brought you to me“; or in the Torah’s list of non-kosher birds.)This endangered raptor nests on mountainous desert cliffs and is so rare that I thought surely I’d never see one in the wild. Yet, as part of the recent Eilat Birding Festival, we travelled to the Negev region of Israel for a day trip. What a thrill when our guides pointed out two or three Griffon Vultures and Egyptian Vultures, soaring effortlessly, far above these massive cliffs across from where we stood at Sde Boker – exciting, though it was hard to grasp their true size from the distance.But . . . the highlight of the day was when – all of a sudden – one of our very talented guides called out, “Griffon Vulture right over head!” With no thought as to my camera settings, I just pointed upward and took a few shots. There it was – in full view, gliding by right above us – breathtaking!For more perspective on the need for protecting these mighty birds, read this 2011 article in Ha’aretz by Dan Alon, expert and Director of the Israel Ornithological Center.
See Zoo Torah and a 2014 article in Ha’aretz for more on the controversy about the identity of the Nesher. Additional info about the Griffon Vulture can also be found here.And here is a statue of the Griffon Vulture, placed near that sign at the Makhtesh Ramon overlook along the road, for those who – like I once did – believe they may never experience the thrill of seeing this powerful bird in real life.