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Location Malawi, Southern
Central coordinates 35o 40.00' East  15o 15.00' South
IBA criteria A1, A4i, A4iii
Area 220,000 ha
Altitude 620 m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (WESM) (Affiliate)

Site description Lake Chilwa is a shallow lake (1.5–3 m, maximum 5 m) that drains an area of c.8,000 km² of hills and mountains; it is bordered on all sides by swamps and seasonally flooded grassland, especially extensive on the flat western and northern shores. The lake itself is c.700 km² in size (or more at maximum extent), but dries up occasionally after a series of dry years (as in 1968, 1973 and 1995). It is very rich in fish and supports a population of c.60,000 people. The swamp vegetation consists mainly of Typha (c.650 km²) and Phragmites reedbeds (150–300 km²), with extensive patches of Scirpus in the open lake, whereas flood-plain grassland covers c.400 km². Several large rice-growing areas have been developed in the swamp, and the edges are cultivated (under maize) in the dry season, covering an estimated 10% of the surface overall.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Fulvous Whistling-duck Dendrocygna bicolor winter  1999  100,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus winter  1999  5,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
African Spoonbill Platalea alba winter  1996  300 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Black Heron Egretta ardesiaca winter  1996  600 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni winter  present  A1  Least Concern 
Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus winter  present  A1  Near Threatened 
Black Crake Zapornia flavirostra winter  1999  100,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio winter  1996  2,500 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Allen's Gallinule Porphyrio alleni winter  1999  200,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Lesser Moorhen Gallinula angulata winter  1999  600,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Great Snipe Gallinago media winter  uncommon  A1  Near Threatened 
Grey-headed Gull Larus cirrocephalus winter  1996  2,500 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
African Skimmer Rynchops flavirostris winter  2000  280 individuals  A1, A4i  Near Threatened 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds winter  1999  1,000,000-2,499,999 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Lake Chilwa Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar) 224,800 protected area contains site 220,000  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Artificial - terrestrial   14%
Wetlands (inland)   57%
Shrubland   12%
Forest   16%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture -
fisheries/aquaculture -
hunting -
nature conservation and research -

Other biodiversity None known today; large mammals have been exterminated.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

References Schulten and Harrison (1975), Wilson (1999), Wilson and van Zegeren (1998), van Zegeren and Wilson (1999).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Lake Chilwa and flood-plain. Downloaded from on 29/08/2014

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