Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas

IBA sign at an Italian reserve. Photo: Adrian Long


  • A cost-effective focus for conservation on land and sea

Because some places are richer in bird diversity than others, conserving a relatively modest network of sites can be a very cost-effective and efficient way of ensuring the survival of a large number of species. 

This is what BirdLife’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) Programme seeks to do. BirdLife Partners have, to date, identified and documented around 12,000 sites in over 200 countries and territories worldwide, using data gathered locally, and applying consistent selection criteria agreed internationally. 

These IBAs provide the BirdLife Partnership with a focus for conservation action, planning, and advocacy. IBAs are large enough to safeguard a viable population of a species, group of species, or entire avian community during at least part of its life-cycle, but are small enough to be conserved in their entirety.


Harrold and Wilson Ponds National Park IBA. Photo: BNT


  • Identifying and protecting the most important sites for biodiversity worldwide

BirdLife’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas programme aims to identify, protect and manage a network of sites that are significant for the long-term viability of naturally-occurring bird populations. This network may be considered the minimum essential to ensure the survival of these species across their ranges and throughout their life cycles. The consequences of losing any one of these sites would be disproportionately large.

The IBA programme aims to guide the implementation of national conservation strategies, through the promotion and development of Protected Areas. IBAs can show where current Protected Area systems miss key species, and how these gaps can be plugged. 

Birds have been shown to be effective indicators of biodiversity, so the conservation of IBAs ensures the survival of a correspondingly large number of other animals and plants. 

BirdLife’s IBA programme has produced the only global, site-based, spatially-explicit set of information on biodiversity, which has been recognised by international conservation bodies such as the IUCN and the Convention on Biological Diversity as the basis of a worldwide network of priority sites for conservation. In many regions, IBA inventories have been used to identify potential Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance).

Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas are:

  • Places of international significance for the conservation of birds and other biodiversity
  • Recognised world-wide as practical tools for conservation
  • Distinct areas amenable to practical conservation action
  • Identified using robust, standardised criteria
  • Sites that together form part of a wider integrated approach to the conservation and sustainable use of the natural environment

Natewa Tunuloa IBA, Fiji


  • Nearing full global coverage 

BirdLife has

  • documented over 12,000 Important Bird Areas in over 200 countries and territories, and published over 102 national and regional IBA directories
  • facilitated legally binding protection for over 2,000 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas
  • established over 2000 Local Conservation Groups which monitor, manage and protect “their” Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas.

BirdLife is

  • managing over one million hectares in some 6,350 nature reserves
  • influencing the safeguard policies of multilateral development banks and corporates to ensure reflection of biodiversity concerns at site level
  • demonstrating the links between biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods through community-centred projects at key Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas
  • successfully campaigning against development projects which threaten important for birds and biodiversity.


IBA map


  • Continents, countries and states 

To date, BirdLife and its Partners have published seven regional directories, and 129 sub-regional, national or state directories, covering all or part of 83 countries (often in local languages). When complete, the global network is likely to comprise around 15,000 IBAs covering some 10 million km2 (7% of the world’s land surface). Currently, only about 40% of all IBAs receive some form of protection. While this is a tremendous achievement, many unprotected sites are threatened with irreversible destruction, and BirdLife aims to secure the future of the entire global IBA network.


Policy and Science

  • National Partner-led, fed by local knowledge

BirdLife’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Area  concept has been developed and applied for over 30 years. Considerable effort has been devoted to refining and agreeing a set of simple but robust criteria that can be applied worldwide. The BirdLife Secretariat develops and maintains the list of ‘trigger’ species and the population thresholds to be used for each IBA category, and makes sure the criteria are applied in a consistent and common-sense way. This ensures that sites selected as IBAs have true significance for the international conservation of bird populations. Until recently, IBAs were identified only for terrestrial and freshwater environments, but over the last 10 years a modified set of the IBA criteria has been applied in the marine realm too. In 2012, BirdLife published the first Marine IBA “e-atlas”, with details of 3000 IBAs in coastal and territorial waters, and on the high seas. 

Wherever possible, IBAs are identified nationally, led by the BirdLife Partner, and drawing upon the data collected huge networks of local ornithologists and conservationists. The IBA Programme can be a powerful way to build national institutional capacity. The training which the BirdLife Partnership provides in, among other things, bird survey and bird identification techniques has been a considerable additional benefit of the programme, resulting in a large increase in ornithological knowledge and expertise for BirdLife Partners and collaborating government agencies. Throughout the IBA identification process, links are established and reinforced between the national BirdLife Partner and other institutions, NGOs and other local organisations and individuals.

James Bay IBA, Canada. Photo: Ted Cheskey, Nature Canada


  • Linking site conservation to local livelihoods

While IBAs are key to the conservation of species and habitats, the natural services and products they provide often contribute to the livelihoods and wellbeing of local people. Conversely, the traditional land management practices of communities that use IBAs may help maintain the habitats the IBA “trigger” bird species require. Community engagement and involvement in IBA conservation is vital. This is increasingly being achieved through the actions of Local Conservation Groups (LCGs). There are already over 2,000 LCGs worldwide, fostering local participation in conservation, with benefits for birds, biodiversity and the people who depend on the site, or enjoy visiting it. 

As the emphasis moves from site identification to site monitoring and protection, the IBA Programme is making a major contribution to global biodiversity conservation, to the livelihoods of the communities who live in and around IBAs, and to the protection of ecosystem services on which many more people depend.