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Indawgyi IBA, Myanmar © Jack Tordoff

Important Bird Areas (IBA)

Globally important sites for the conservation of bird species


Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are key sites for the conservation of bird species, identified through the BirdLife International IBA programme. These sites are small enough to be conserved in their entirety, often form part of a protected-area network, and are, as far as possible, different in character or habitat or ornithological importance from the surrounding area.1 The IBAs are an important subset of the KBA approach to identify key areas for site-scale biodiversity conservation. The identification of IBAs is based on a set of internationally agreed, standardised criteria and is an ongoing process. Inventories of IBAs have now been produced for most of the terrestrial and freshwater regions of the world, while work is underway to expand the programme into the marine environment.1


Supported by

BirdLife International


Year of creation



Global in extent, with over 11,000 sites in more than 200 countries, territories and autonomous regions (Year: 2010).1



The set of global criteria developed by BirdLife International for the identification of IBAs, which are almost identical to those for KBAs, are based on the occurrence of key bird species that are vulnerable to global extinction or whose populations are otherwise irreplaceable. A site may qualify as an IBA if it meets one or more of the following criteria:2

  • Globally threatened species: The site is known or thought regularly to hold significant numbers of a globally threatened species, or other species of global conservation concern
  • Restricted-range species: The site is known or thought to hold a significant component of a group of restricted-range bird species (global distribution of less than 50,000 sq. km) whose breeding distributions define an Endemic Bird Area (i.e. where two or more restricted-range species occur together) or a Secondary Area (one that supports one or more non-overlapping restricted-range species).
  • Biome-restricted species: The site is known or thought to hold a significant component of the group of species whose distributions are largely or wholly confined to one biome
  • Congregations: A site may qualify on any one or more of the four sub-criteria listed below:
    i) Site known or thought to hold, on a regular basis, 1% of a biogeographic population of a congregatory waterbird species.
    ii) Site known or thought to hold, on a regular basis, 1% of the global population of a congregatory seabird or terrestrial species.
    iii) Site known or thought to hold, on a regular basis, 20,000 waterbirds or 10,000 pairs of seabirds of one or more species.
    iv) Site known or thought to exceed thresholds set for migratory species at bottleneck sites.

Thresholds within these criteria are set globally or regionally where appropriate. In addition, further sets of regional and sub-regional criteria have been applied in certain regions, including Europe and the European Union, and the Middle East.



IBAs are identified and supported by the BirdLife International Partnership as well as other national and regional stakeholders, ranging from local communities, government agencies to international conservation organisations. Biridlife’s national partners monitor and work to protect bird populations within IBAs. In many countries IBAs are part of existing protected area networks and hence are protected under national legislation. However, the level of legal protection of other IBAs varies greatly and for a large proportion it is completely lacking. Several countries have a National IBA Conservation Strategy (NIBACS) to guide the integration of IBA conservation with other national conservation processes. Several governments and donor agencies recognise the importance of IBAs, and therefore, in some cases, these sites attract significant financial incentives or direct funding for development and management. IBAs form the main focus and foundation for the conservation work of the BirdLife Partnership. They are also comprehensively documented in a range of publications and through the BirdLife International website’s Data Zone.


Business relevance:

Legal and compliance – The legal recognition and protection of IBAs varies across countries. For instance in Ecuador, IBAs are recognised and protected in law. More usually, the IBA network informs design and gap-filling of national protected area systems. In the European Union, substantial case law establishes IBAs as the basis for designation of Special Protected Areas under the Birds Directive. IBAs also inform the implementation of other international agreements. They provide a starting point for implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Programme of Work on Protected Areas, which enjoins Parties to set up ‘comprehensive, effectively managed, and ecologically representative national and regional systems of protected areas’. Marine IBAs are becoming established as a cornerstone in the CBD process for identifying Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) outside national jurisdiction. For waterbirds, criteria for the IBA congregatory species category are closely aligned with the criteria for designating wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. BirdLife International has published ‘shadow’ directories of IBAs that are potential Ramsar Sites, in support of Parties’ efforts to ensure conservation and wise use of their wetlands.

Although not directly referred to, the criteria for identifying IBAs are directly aligned with the criteria for identifying sensitive areas in the safeguard policies of major development banks, including the World bank Operational Policy 4.04 on Natural Habitats3, and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standard 6.4 The High Conservation Value (HCV) approach to identifying environmentally sensitive areas is gaining increasing importance in the safeguard and certification approaches for business. IBAs directly address the first HCV criterion (HCV 1), ‘areas containing globally, regionally or nationally significant concentrations of biodiversity values’.5 In addition, IBAs, as a subset of KBAs are also referred to in the standards of certification schemes of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB)6 and the Responsible Jewellery Council7, as well as the Climate and Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) standards8 as areas where measurable biodiversity benefits can be delivered.

Biodiversity – IBAs are well established and recognised as sites of very high biodiversity value and are therefore priorities for conservation attention. IBAs form an important subset of KBAs and although they are identified using information on birds, they are also frequently of exceptional importance for other biodiversity. The IBA criteria may be applied using either global or sub-global thresholds: in all cases, however, sites identified as IBAs are of international conservation importance. Since IBAs are identified at the site-scale based on existing protected areas, concessions and management units, they are highly relevant for business in terms of mitigating and avoiding risk from biodiversity loss and identifying opportunities associated with biodiversity conservation.

Socio-cultural- IBAs focus on birds, one of the most accessible and popular groups of animals. They highlight internationally important biodiversity, often bringing sites on to the conservation agenda for the first time. For these reasons, IBAs are an important mechanism for engaging local communities in conservation. BirdLife Partners in over 100 countries around the world are working with a diversity of Local Conservation Groups (LCGs) to build local engagement and awareness of conservation, and to catalyse action for sustainable resource management. There are currently LCGs working with BirdLife Partners at around 2500 IBAs worldwide. LCGs take on a number of roles, including involvement with IBA management, monitoring, and where necessary campaigning against inappropriate and damaging development projects.





  1. Information about the IBA programme and links to regional IBA pages on the BirdLife International website.
  2. The global criteria for IBA identification are provided on the BirdLife International website.
  3. World Bank (2001) Operational Policy 4.04: Natural Habitats. World Bank, Washington, DC, U.S.A.
  4. IFC (2012) Performance Standard 6: Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Natural Resource Management. International Finance Corporation, Washington, DC, U.S.A.
  5. High Conservation Value Resource Network
  6. RSB. (2009) Annex to the Guidelines for Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, Stakeholder Mapping and Community Consultation Specific to the Biofuels Sector- Ecosystem and Conservation Specialist. Version 1.0. Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, Lausanne, France.
  7. RJC. (2009) Responsible Jewellery Council Standards Guidance. The Responsible Jewellery Council. London, U.K.
  8. CCBA. (2008) Climate, Community & Biodiversity Project Design Standards Second Edition. The Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance, Arlington, VA, U.S.A.


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