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Why Cranes Flock to Israel's Hula Lake Park for Valentine's Day

TEL AVIV, Israel — Love is in the air over Israel's Hula Lake Park this Valentine's Day, even if there are no cards or chocolates in sight.

The park, which lies under the second-largest bird migration corridor in the world, comes alive each February as the mating season reaches its peak.

One billion birds choose to migrate over Israel every year, looking for food — and love — on their way between Africa and Europe.

Love Is in the Air for Cranes on Valentine's Day 2:00

Among them are 100,000 Common Gray Cranes, also known as European Cranes, whose mating calls have been getting louder.

"We are coming up to Valentine's Day and the loud voices of cranes we are hearing here is actually them saying 'I love you' to each other," says Yaron Cherka, chief birdwatcher at the Jewish National Fund (JNF) charity.

Of the 550 species that pass through the park annually, the cranes are the only completely monogamous birds. They meet their partner at the age of four and live together, faithfully until one mate dies, which can be up to 30 years.

Image: Hula Cranes Flying
Eurasian cranes fly over the Hula Valley in northern Israel. David Copeland / NBC News

"They stick to a family formation and fly together for thousands of miles, which is unique," Cherka says, his eyes sparkling as he talks about the cranes.

The cranes also are known as great dancers, and during this season of courtship they identify a partner and commence an elaborate dance that includes bows, pirouettes and jumps, as well as a harmonized set of mating calls.

Love isn't the only thing that draws these courting cranes to Hula Park is such droves: there's also food.

Image: Hula Cranes Swamp
Eurasian cranes crowd swampy areas of the reflooded Hula Valley in Israel. David Copeland / NBC News

As Hagai Hickman drives his tractor towards the birds, onlookers can sense the flock's excitement. Strapped to the back of the tractor is a huge pile of corn kernels.

"I feed the cranes 8 tons of corn [kernels] every day," he said. "We feed them to keep them away from the farm crops located all around us."

Like other birds, the cranes prefer to migrate over land than sea, and Israel makes a convenient stop at the junction of three continents: Africa, Europe and western Asia.

With its lush green agriculture landscape and abundance of water ponds, the park is a particular paradise for birds but also attacks many plants and mammals.

But the Upper Galilee valley in which it lies has had its share of ups and downs. The area was a wetland until 1950 when it was drained to prevent the spread of malaria.

image: Hula 1950 01
Water buffalo and their herder in the swamps of the Hula Valley in northern Israel, before it was being drained of water. Jewish National Fund

In the early 1990s, the JNF decided to put the water back, bringing the landscape back to life and transforming the valley to a place that attracts bird watchers from all around the world.

Inbar Rubin, chief guide at the park, thinks the faithful cranes can teach humans a thing or two about maintaining a good love life.

"The first secret is all to do with communication," she says. "The cranes speak to each other all the time. The other secret is that they never stop courting each other even though they know they will never separate from each other."