World Migratory Bird Day is a global celebration that highlights the need for more protection of migratory birds and their habitats. This year’s theme is “networking for migratory birds” and as the largest professional global conservation network, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) is pleased to join the celebrations.
For many people, the sight of migrating birds signals the start of spring and new beginnings. Migratory birds can fly thousands of miles each year, crossing geographical and political borders as they travel between wintering sites in the south and breeding sites in the north. The longest migration is flown by the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) which flies from the high Arctic where it breeds in summer to its Antarctic wintering grounds with some birds flying more than 80,000km annually.
However, there are concerns about observed declines in some populations, such as the Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) whose numbers have declined from 2,000-2,800 breeding pairs in the 1970s to an estimated 100 breeding pairs today. The cause of this dramatic decline has been attributed to the loss of stopover habitats along its migration route in Asia between its breeding sites in Russia and wintering sites in Bangladesh and Myanmar. Without these vital stopover points, this small bird is unable to rest and refuel on its 16,000 km round-trip migration.
Habitat loss and changes in the way land is used are the primary threats to many migratory bird species but pollution and hunting are also responsible for a decline in population numbers. This decline is worrying as birds are an excellent indicator of environmental health and their disappearance indicates that there environmental problems that need to be addressed.
This year’s World Migratory Bird Day theme, “Networking for migratory species”, highlights the importance of ensuring a network of habitats is available to birds throughout their lives. It also highlights the need for governments, conservation organisations and dedicated people to work together for the benefit of migratory birds.
As the world’s largest conservation network, IUCN is able to bring together the expertise of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) - a network of more than 8,000 experts based across the world who have specialist knowledge on species and themes such as wildlife health and sustainable use of species. These experts are able to analyze threats facing migratory birds and advise on how to best to address them.
Connecting funding to projects working on the ground to save migratory birds is an important step in the conservation of these incredible species. SOS – Save Our Species, a partnership between IUCN, the Global Environment Facility and World Bank, is one of these funding networks. It delivers financial assistance to where it is needed by supporting a project focused on saving the iconic Spoon-billed Sandpiper from extinction. The project aims to prevent further population declines by using breeding programmes and headstarting programmes which give young chicks extra support and has already seen the successful hatching of 26 chicks.
By working together, people can save migratory birds and the network of habitats they depend on for the enjoyment of future generations. Let’s get together and make sure the networks migratory birds need to survive remain open.
Find out more about World Migratory Bird Day and the activities that are happening worldwide here.