Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs)

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is an Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (IBA) in New Mexico, USA © Joseph Sohm
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, an IBA in New Mexico, USA © Joseph Sohm


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.  

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.

Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) 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


A cost-effective focus for conservation on land and sea

BirdLife aims to identify, protect and manage a network of sites that are significant for the long-term viability of naturally occurring bird populations.  Many sites are also important for other forms of biodiversity, so the conservation of Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas ensures the survival of a correspondingly large number of other animals and plants.

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 .  When complete, the global network will likely to comprise around 15,000 IBAs covering some 10 million km 2  (7% of the world’s land surface).

These sites 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.

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.  Because some places are much richer in biodiversity 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. 

Koror Palua Stuart Chape


Identifying and protecting the most important sites for biodiversity worldwide

We aim 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.

The entire BirdLife Partnership is committed to safeguarding IBAs 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.

BirdLife 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.

Tambourissa Religiosa, Madascar


Progress: 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
  • 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
  • published seven regional directories, and 129 sub-regional, national or state directories, covering all or part of 83 countries (often in local languages)

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

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. Browse our map of IBAs in Danger.


Policy and science: fed by local knowledge

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.

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 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.


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 needed for wildlife conservation.

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.

Sites that are identified and owned locally

Wherever possible the sites are identified nationally, led by the BirdLife Partner, and drawing upon the data collected by huge networks of local ornithologists and conservationists.

The training which the BirdLife Partnership provides in, among other things, bird survey and bird identification techniques has resulted 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.