American University of Beirut

Celebrating the AUB campus as a bird sanctuary and haven for migratory birds

​Jennifer Muller, Office of Communications,

The AUB Arboretum and Botanic Garden (AUBotanic) chose their annual spring event to shine a spotlight on the campus as a bird sanctuary and how it serves as an important resting area for a number of migratory birds as they fly between Europe and Africa. Two AUB presidents were on hand at the event, lending their support to AUBotanic and its work in safeguarding our green campus and the wildlife it supports. 

“We announced the AUB campus as a botanic garden two years ago because we are committed to the preservation of our wonderful flora and fauna, which are an essential part of our campus life,” said President Fadlo Khuri. “President Waterbury declared the AUB campus a bird sanctuary in 2003. Today, 15 years later, we are reaffirming AUB’s commitment to keep the campus as a sanctuary for resident and migrating birds.”

Guest of honor at the event was AUB’s 14th president, Dr. John Waterbury, who is an avid bird watcher and conservationist. He noted how important the campus is to these migratory birds, as Ras Beirut literally juts out into one of the busiest flyways in the avian world. He also addressed the seeming incongruity of the campus being an official sanctuary for birds and also having a resident population of hundreds of cats.

“While I was president I tried very hard to promote harmony between cats and birds, although it does go against nature,” said Waterbury. “But I think we made some progress; to the extent that Rami Khoury, who used to write for the The Daily Star, wrote an editorial about how Lebanese politicians should come to the AUB campus to learn how cats and birds can get along.” After much laughter from the audience, he added, “the cats do have to be well fed: that’s key.”

A short documentary film—AUB Sanctuary for Migrating Birds​—was then shown, following the path of the European Turtle Dove, which can be seen around campus in the spring and fall. Millions of migratory birds make the arduous journey between Europe and Africa twice a year, traveling thousands of kilometers in each direction. The European Turtle Dove spends the winter in Africa and then flies through the continent up to the eastern Mediterranean coast before proceeding across Europe, as far as the UK. In the spring and summer, they hatch their young, and the new generation of birds repeats this journey. 

The AUBotanic event was held the same week as World Migratory Birds Day, an annual initiative aimed at conserving these birds and their habitats. The European Turtle Dove was chosen for the film because its numbers have decreased dramatically in the past several years, as they and many migratory birds face increasing dangers from pollution, insecticides, and hunters.  President Khuri addressed this issue in his remarks and explained how AUB can “lead by example” and raise awareness through activities such as nature education tours and workshops.

“These informal learning opportunities that are offered by the AUB Botanic Garden committee really benefit—not just our constituency—but future constituencies as well,” said Khuri. “I think it is critical to pursue this type of experiential learning because it can encourage a society which has distinguished itself more for bird hunting than for bird conservation, to recognize this precious treasure before we lose it.”

Director of AUBotanic, Professor Salma Talhouk, noted that bird watching tours and workshops are on the horizon. She also invited those interested in becoming active contributors to the campus to consider enrolling in the new AUBotanic Docent Program, which trains volunteers who can give guided tours and help with maintaining and upgrading the natural environment of campus.

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