Ili River Delta

Year of compilation: 2006

Site description (baseline)
The Ily River enters Lake Balkash creating a delta approximately 817,000 hectares in extent (Zhatkanbayev 1991, 1994a). This area consists of an extensive network of river channels, bordered by dense riparian scrub,lakes of standing and running water, reedbeds and desert areas. The wetland area of ca 168,000 hectares is the largest in Kazakhstan (Zhatkanbayev 1991, 1994a).

Key biodiversity
This almost completely natural area holds colonies of breeding Dalmatian and White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus), Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia) Common, Little, Black and White-winged Black Terns (Sterna hirundo, Sterna albifrons, Chlidonias niger and C. leucopterus), Bitterns (Botaurus stellaris), White-headed Ducks and White-tailed Eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla). The area supports a complex of waterbird species typical of the wetlands of Central Asia. 82 species of non-passerines and 58 species of passerines were recorded by the "Wings over Kazakhstan 1998" expedition during the breeding season of 1998 (Simon Busuttil et al.).

Non-bird biodiversity: Typical vegetation: extensive beds of Phragmites, riparian woodlands of Populus diversifolia, Elaeagnus angustifolia, E. orientalis, Salix wilhelmsiana, S. songarica etc., Tamarix hispida, T. ramosissima, Halimodendron halodendron, with lianas - Clematis orientalis, Cinanchum sibiricum, Calystegia sepium. Typical mammals: Canis lupus, Vulpes vulpes, Sus scrofa, Capreolus sibirica, Ondatra zibetica, Citellus fulvus etc.

Habitat and land use
Main types of use - small scale agriculture, fisheries, hunting, and use of water for irrigation. The current extent of the commercial fishery in the delta is relatively small and shouldn’t therefore have a significant impact on prey availability for pelicans. However the fishery on Lake Balkash close to the delta is better developed and growing rapidly as a consequence of the opening up of the fishery to the newly developing private sector.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Burning is probably the major factor affecting pelicans, other colonial nesting wetland species and White-tailed Eagles. Local people (hunters, fishermen and farmers) burn areas of reed regularly (from every 3-4 years to annually or even more often) to destroy old growth and provide fresh areas for grazing, hunting of muskrat (Ondatra zibetica) and fishing. The burning is uncontrolled and occurs throughout the delta even in the wetter parts. The rice growing area upstream of the delta at Bakhbakty and Akdala has decreased in size since the economic changes engendered by the break-up of the USSR, but now it is increasing again. Large volumes of water are taken from the Ily River for irrigation; before 1990s, pesticide accumulation in pelicans was shown to be approaching lethal levels (A Zhatkanbayev 1990, 1994a). Pesticide usage appears to have fallen with the replacement of state collective farms by co-operatives formed by the farmers left economically stranded by the collapse of collective farming, but the situation should be monitored. Other threats - illegal hunting and disturnance by fishermen, including sport fishing, as well as overgrazing (especially in the riparian forests), illegal cutting of trees.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Annual monitoring of colonies of pelicans is conducted by the Institute of Zoology, Almaty (A. Zhatkanbayev). In 1998, the international survey "Wings over Kazakhstan 1998" was conducted (Busuttil et al., 1998).

Protected areas
The IBA overlaps partly with Pribalkhashskiy and Karoiskiy zakazniks.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Ili River Delta. Downloaded from on 05/06/2023.