Some sites are particularly important for birds and other wildlife

Sites of particular significance for birds have been identified by BirdLife as Important Bird Areas (IBAs). For many bird species, effective conservation depends on protecting networks of IBAs. These networks also capture much other biodiversity, so are an excellent first cut for the larger set of Key Biodiversity Areas—an extension of the IBA approach to other taxa. IBAs have been identified around the world, so far mainly on land and for freshwater, but increasingly attention is turning to the oceans.


Key messages and case studies

Sites crucial for conserving birds - Important Bird Areas - have been identified in most countries
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Sites which are particularly significant for conserving birds across the world have been identified by BirdLife as ‘Important Bird Areas’. Some 10,000 such areas have been identified so far, in nearly 200 countries, through the application of a set of standardised selection criteria. This process has hitherto mostly focused on terrestrial and freshwater environments (To date, more than 10,000 Important Bird Areas have been identified, Numbers and types of Important Bird Areas vary between regions), but increasingly attention is turning to the oceans (Important Bird Areas for the marine environment are being identified in many regions). Further tools are being developed with BirdLife partners in Africa to better conserve these 'Important Bird Areas' (Important Bird Areas for the marine environment are being identified in many regions).

Important Bird Areas form networks for conserving bird species
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Important Bird Areas (IBAs) represent the most significant sites for bird conservation. Most IBAs are important for more than one bird species, and most bird species (for which IBAs have been identified) have significant populations in more than one IBA, so that protecting one site alone is usually not sufficient to ensure conservation of a particular species (A network of critical sites for migratory waterbirds is being identified across Africa and EurasiaA network of critical sites for migratory waterbirds is being identified across Africa and Eurasia). However, protecting networks of IBAs is a very effective way of conserving a range of bird species with different ecologies and distributions.

Important Bird Areas conserve core populations in critical habitat
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Important Bird Area (IBA) networks often only cover a small fraction of the range of each species. However, because they concentrate on conserving key habitat for core populations of the species concerned, they can make a vital contribution to their conservation. Often, the whole of an IBA is composed of critical habitat for particular species. However, in areas where key habitat is fragmented the IBA may include both the habitat fragments and the surrounding matrix (Important Bird Areas including habitat fragments and the surrounding matrix: an example from Kenya).

IBAs have been identified for most threatened species and for many others of conservation concern
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Networks of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) have been identified for many globally threatened birds (at risk because of their declining populations, small populations and/or small ranges (Important Bird Areas for globally threatened species: Blue Swallow). IBA networks also seek to capture significant populations of all species with restricted ranges (whose distributions define Endemic Bird Areas (Important Bird Areas in Endemic Bird Areas: an example from the East Andes), or limited to particular biomes (Important Bird Areas in biomes: an example from north-central Africa). Among the highest priority IBAs are the Alliance for Zero Extinction sites (AZEs)—those holding the last populations of Critically Endangered or Endangered species (Some IBAs hold the last populations of highly threatened bird species and are an urgent priority). While many birds of conservation concern are largely sedentary, others are long-distance migrants that congregate at particular sites at different stages in their annual cycle. The IBA networks may protect breeding and non-breeding sites, as well as those along migration routes (Important Bird Areas for congregatory species: Eurasian Spoonbill).

Important Bird Areas capture much other biodiversity
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Important Bird Areas (IBAs) form part of a larger network of ‘Key Biodiversity Areas’—the most important sites for biodiversity conservation worldwide, identified on the basis of the species they contain (What are Key Biodiversity Areas?). We generally have good data on the status and distribution of bird species. However, the information for species from many other groups is poor or patchy, often making it hard to identify the critical sites for these. Where information on other groups is available, the evidence suggests that IBAs may also be important sites for these (What are Key Biodiversity Areas?). The conservation value of the IBA network for a number of other groups has already been shown, for example in East Africa (Important Bird Areas are also important for other terrestrial vertebrates in East Africa, Forest Important Bird Areas are effective at capturing a large proportion of other forest biodiversity in Uganda, The Important Bird Area network in Uganda is effective at capturing butterflies, dragonflies and some plants ) and Turkey (Important Bird Areas hold internationally important numbers of other animals or plants in Turkey). Where data on other groups are lacking, IBAs may therefore serve as a useful first cut for a network of Key Biodiversity Areas, with sites for other taxa being added once relevant information becomes available.