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What is an Important Bird Area?

Important Bird Areas often support a significant proportion of one or more species' total population. In winter, the Niagara River hosts up to 20% of the entire population of Bonaparte's Gulls, making it a globally significant IBA.

Important Bird Areas, or IBAs, are sites that provide essential habitat for one or more species of bird. IBAs include sites for breeding, wintering, and/or migrating birds. IBAs may be a few acres or thousands of acres, but usually they are discrete sites that stand out from the surrounding landscape. IBAs may include public or private lands, or both, and they may be protected or unprotected.

To qualify as an Important Bird Area, sites must satisfy at least one of the following criteria. The site must support:

  • Species of conservation concern (e.g. threatened and endangered species)
  • Restricted-ranges species (species vulnerable because they are not widely distributed)
  • Species that are vulnerable because their populations are concentrated in one general habitat type or biome
  • Species, or groups of similar species (such as waterfowl or shorebirds), that are vulnerable because they occur at high densities due to their congregatory behavior

Throughout the IBA process, the status of sites are characterized by the following terms: Potential, Nominated, Identified, Recognized, Pending, Rejected, Delisted, Merged. See definitions of Status Terms.

Identification of a site as an IBA indicates its unique importance for birds. Nonetheless, some IBAs are of greater significance than others. The process of determining priority levels among IBAs is based on a hierarchy of criteria. Sites may be prioritized as Global, Continental, or State level IBAs. See specific criteria which apply.

The IBA identification process provides a data-driven means for cataloging the most important sites for birds throughout the country and the world. The use of a hierarchical classification system further helps to establish priorities for conservation efforts.



Updated November 2010