Globally Important Bird Areas of the United States

Sunset over Yukon Flats NWR, July 2004 by Laura Kennedy, FWS

Sunset over Yukon Flats NWR, July 2004 by Laura Kennedy, FWS


Some sites are exceptionally important - even essential - for bird conservation. Directing protection and management efforts towards these sites is crucial if viable populations of many species are to survive in the long-term. Conservationists have long understood this fact, but only in recent years has a program emerged to recognize these sites formally.


From its start in Europe in the 1980s, the Important Bird Areas concept has been a success, leading to the recognition and protection of some 3,500 sites worldwide. American Bird Conservancy's Important Bird Areas Program was launched in 1995 and has concentrated on identifying and documenting the very top sites throughout all 50 states - those of significance on a global level. Many kinds of sites are represented: National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks and Forests, state lands, conservation organization lands, and some private lands. Some of these sites are important because they are links along a migratory pathway. Other sites are important quite independent of any other site, and a few - most notably several in Hawaii - support species found nowhere else on earth.


Using objective scientific information and relying on the recommendations of experts throughout the U.S., ABC has developed a list and set of descriptions of 500 of these internationally significant sites. For a site to be included, it must, during at least some part of the year, contain critical habitat that supports (1) a significant population of an endangered or threatened species (2) a significant population of a U.S. WatchList species (3) a significant population of a species with a limited rang or (4) a significantly large concentration of breeding, migrating or wintering birds, including waterfowl, seabirds, wading birds, raptors or landbirds. Read more on the selection criteria here.


The goal of the IBA program is not just to recognize the sites as important, but to mobilize the resources needed to protect them. The IBA designation is an important first step in raising awareness among the public, and among land managers, to the importance of each site and its value to bird conservation. Despite the fact that most IBAs have at least some protected status, an initial analysis of threats to IBAs found that many face a barrage of serious problems. Among the most critical are introduced species, soil erosion, suburban sprawl, over-use for recreation, lack of funding for management and infrastructure, groundwater insufficiency, water diversion, water drainage, excessive disturbance, overgrazing, pollution, pesticides, and fire. ABC is now developing an IBA Conservation and Education Campaign to help land managers counter these threats.


More Information


... Find an IBA in your state


... See a complete alphabetical list of IBAs


... Why are there two U.S. IBA Programs? Read more here.