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 much richer in bird diversity than others, conserving a relatively modest network of sites is a 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 more than 12,000 sites in over 200 countries and territories worldwide, as well as is the marine environment, using data gathered locally, and by applying consistent, internationally agreed, selection criteria.

These IBAs provide the BirdLife Partnership and others 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 many 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, including through the expansion of protected-area networks. IBAs can show where current protected-area systems miss key species, and how these gaps can be plugged.

Many IBAs are also important for other forms of biodiversity, so the conservation of IBAs ensures the survival of a correspondingly large number of other animals and plants.

The entire BirdLife Partnership is committed to the IBA programme and almost all Partners have been working actively to help secure the protection and sustainable management of their national networks. In several countries, IBAs are formally recognised in national legislation as sites of particular importance to be taken into consideration by the land-use planning and development processes. Partners are engaged in a diverse range of activities at and for IBAs, including monitoring, research, management, restoration, public awareness, safeguard and the promotion of sustainable economic alternatives.

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 and Biodiversity Areas in over 130 national and regional IBA directories, and online at www.birdlife.org/datazone/site
  • facilitated legally binding protection for over 2,000 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas
  • established over 2,000 Local Conservation Groups which monitor, manage and protect “their” Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas.

BirdLife is

  • managing over some 645,000 hectares in over 1,550 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 IBAs.

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 (those for which sites are selected) and associated population thresholds to be used for each IBA category, and makes sure the criteria are applied in a consistent and common-sense way, thereby ensuring consistency and the maintenance of standards. Initially, IBAs were identified only for terrestrial and freshwater environments, but over the past decade, the IBA process and method has been adapted and applied in the marine realm. In 2012, BirdLife published the first Marine IBA “e-atlas”, with details of 3,000 IBAs in coastal and territorial waters as well as on the high seas.

BirdLife’s IBA programme has produced the only global, site-based, spatially-explicit set of information on biodiversity, which has been recognised by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 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). In the European Union, IBAs have been used as the basis for designating Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the Wild Birds Directive. IBAs are included, explicitly or implicitly, in the safeguard policies of international banks as critical habitats. Marine IBAs have been used for the designation of Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas under the CBD. Hundreds of IBAs overlap with World Heritage Sites and UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, which provides additional leverage for their protection. The Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT), a global platform of biodiversity information available for scientists, conservationists and business users, provides information on IBAs and other critical habitats to support decision-making at all levels.

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.

  • IBAs are identified and owned locally

Wherever possible, IBAs are identified nationally, led by the BirdLife Partner, and drawing upon the data collected by 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.