Migratory Birds and Flyways

The BirdLife Flyways Programme is working on the ground to protect chains of Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) that are critical for migratory birds, and to reduce threats along these routes.

Analyses of the data that BirdLife compiles for the IUCN Red List show that migratory birds have become more threatened since 1988, with 33 species moving to more serious threat categories, and just six improving in status.

Many of these declining species were once common, and their arrivals and departures are significant cultural events throughout much of the world.

Their disappearance from the landscape was unthinkable 30 years ago, but is now a real prospect without concerted action.

Case study: Palearctic-African migratory birds have suffered substantial declines.

Birds know no borders

The Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica, undertakes one of the avian world’s most extraordinary migratory journeys. Recent research reveals that some individuals had made nonstop flights of over 11,000 km, the longest continuous journey that has ever been recorded for a landbird.

International collaboration is essential to tackle the threats affecting migratory birds and our Flyways Programme coordinates the work of BirdLife Partners in the three main global flyways:

Africa-Eurasia Flyway: connects the breeding grounds of Europe and northern Asia with the wintering grounds in Africa, and includes vital stop-over sites in the Middle East and Mediterranean

East Asia-Australasia Flyway: connects north-east Asian breeding grounds with wintering grounds in south-east Asia and Australia, and includes the vital stop-over sites in China and the Korean Peninsula

Americas Flyway: connects North American breeding grounds with wintering grounds in the Caribbean and Central and South America

Case study: Migrating birds know no boundaries


  • To save threatened migratory species from extinction by addressing main threats and conserve key sites and habitats which will be beneficial to a wider set of migratory species 
  • To address landscape-scale barriers to migration, especially illegal and unsustainable killing of birds and the proliferation of poorly-planned energy and power transmission infrastructure
  • To conserve networks of critical stop-over sites (Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas, IBAs) through action on the ground by our Local Conservation Groups
  • To strengthen local and national capacity in the stop-over sites by strengthening the collaboration between BirdLife Partners
  • To understand and address the wider land-use issues facing migratory birds through targeted research and policy work

The agenda is set for bird conservation

As a key partner in the Wings Over Wetlands project which operated throughout the Africa-Eurasia Flyway, BirdLife helped usher in a new era of international cooperation in the conservation of migratory species. 

With the cooperation of 11 national governments and BirdLife Partners along the Rift Valley and Red Sea flyways, BirdLife’s Migratory Soaring Bird project aims to protect the key migratory bottlenecks used by 1.5 million storks, cranes and raptors. See case study: BirdLife is working to mainstream soaring bird conservation along the Rift Valley.

In November 2012, with significant BirdLife input, the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) adopted a resolution which, for the first time, set out a global agenda for flyway conservation. BirdLife also ensured effective resolutions on agrochemicals, power lines, climate change, extractive industries, and renewable energy. See case study: Flyways and CMS policy.

Protecting and restoring key sites

Important Bird Area (IBA) networks can support large bird populations and are particularly important for migratory bird species.

Africa and Europe

Living on the Edge is promoting the conservation of migratory birds and sustainable livelihoods in the Sahel through site action, research, communications and advocacy, in Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Senegal and Mauritania.

Case study: A network of critical sites for migratory waterbirds is being identified across Africa and Eurasia. 

East Asia and Australia

This area has more waterbird species listed as Near Threatened or Globally Threatened than any other major flyway. Rates of species decline of up to 8% per year are among the highest of any ecological system of the planet. With funding from the British Birdwatching Fair,

BirdLife Partners along the flyway are working with governments and agencies and with other NGOs to identify conservation action at critical sites for migrating shorebirds, to improve the quality of data on the bird populations that use the flyway, and to raise awareness throughout the region of the threats to migratory birds and the value of coastal wetlands to birds and people.


In 2013, again with BirdFair funding, the BirdLife Americas Partnership will begin an ambitious project to link conservation work at grassland Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) in North and South America. This project will build on work pioneered by BirdLife Partners in the Southern Cone grasslands of South America, which has encouraged a growing number of ranchers to readopt traditional cattle-rearing practices which benefit birds.

© Craig Jones

Policy and science

BirdLife International is the global authority on the conservation status of all bird species, and BirdLife’s World Bird Database (WBDB) is the main repository for information on trends in the population of bird species, their use of habitat (including its seasonal importance), and the threats they face.

The WBDB also includes data on 12,000 Important Bird Areas, the species that use them, the condition of each site, their protection status, and factors that may affect them  in the future. 

In partnership with other international organisations and conventions, BirdLife created the Critical Site Network Tool, which provides national and regional planners, governments and agencies with easy access to comprehensive data on more than 3000 sites used by waterbird species throughout the Africa-Eurasia Flyway.

Case study: Flyways policy in Asia

Case study: Wild bird trade and CITES

Case study: Renewable energy and safeguard policies

A worldwide network of citizen conservationists

Existing networks of Important Bird & BIodiversity Areas (IBAs) Local Conservation Groups are already showing considerable success in conserving key sites along the flyways.

Launched by BirdLife in 2006, the citizen science project Spring Alive helps children across Europe and Africa learn about the incredible journeys undertaken by migrating birds ,and the threats and challenges they face en route, by encouraging them to record and celebrate the arrival of five iconic migratory birds (Barn Swallow, Common Swift, Common Cuckoo, White Stork and European Bee-eater). The popular EuroBirdwatch is its autumn version.


Do you want to know more? Search all BirdLife case studies.