What is the Important Bird Areas Program?
The Important Bird Areas Program in Maryland and DC is part of an international initiative, which was started in Europe in the 1980s by Birdlife International and has now spread worldwide with programs in over 150 countries. In the US, the National Audubon Society is Birdlife’s partner and has established IBA programs in 46 states.
The goals of the program are to identify the areas most essential for sustaining native bird populations, and then to focus conservation efforts on these places. Program goals are achieved through three areas of action:
- Identify the most essential areas for birds
- Monitor those sites for changes to birds and habitat
- Conserve these areas for long-term protection of bird populations
Already across the US more than 1700 IBAs have been identified and many thousands of acres have been protected.
For fast facts on the Maryland-DC's IBA Program see the fact sheet below.
Why Do We Need IBAs?
The loss and deterioration of habitats is a huge threat to birds today. In Maryland and DC, and across the globe, many species of birds are suffering a steady and persistent fall in numbers, and the number one reason for these population declines is disturbance, damage, or outright loss of the habitats they need to survive and reproduce. While some species are able to adapt to changing landscapes, many others are not so lucky. It is no surprise that the species showing the most precipitous declines are those that specialize, and thus depend, on a particular type of habitat. Other birds that are especially vulnerable include those that are already rare or threatened and those that concentrate in large congregations.
Audubon Maryland-DC’s Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program is designed to halt population declines in vulnerable bird species by protecting and enhancing the habitats they depend upon, whether for nesting, foraging, or resting during migration.
What is an IBA?
An IBA is a site that provides essential habitat for one or more species of vulnerable birds. This includes nesting areas, migration stop-over sites, or wintering grounds. Usually, they are discrete sites that stand out from the surrounding landscape. IBAs can be small or large in extent, and may be on public or private lands.
In Maryland and DC a site may qualify as an IBA under any of the following four criteria:
- Exceptional concentrations of regularly occurring birds.
- Significant populations of species of conservation priority.
- Bird species assemblages characteristic of rare or representative habitats.
- Sites where long-term research generates high quality data of value to conservation planning at a statewide scale.
To see a full description of these criteria see the document linked at the bottom of this page.
Although many IBAs are open to the public and are well known birding sites, not all IBAs are publicly accessible. It is not the intent of the program to highlight birdwatching sites but rather to protect core populations of vulnerable species. In this way the IBA program is an effective tool for conservation planning.
Science-based strategy and citizen engagement
The combination of a science-based process and community partnerships to achieve conservation goals makes the IBA approach unique.
Designed as a conservation planning tool, the IBA Program is:
- Science-based – sites are evaluated against rigorous scientific criteria. These criteria emphasize numbers occurring of each priority species in order to protect core populations.
- Proactive – sites are identified before they are threatened.
- Comprehensive – all areas of Maryland and DC are considered.
The IBA Program uses many sources of data to evaluate individual sites and to determine threshold numbers of birds required for a site to meet IBA criteria. These data sources include surveys run by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Natural Heritage Program, such as the Colonial Waterbird Survey and the Midwinter Waterfowl Survey; Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count; and the Maryland-DC Breeding Bird Atlas project, run by the Maryland Ornithological Society.
Conservation goals are achieved at IBAs via partnerships with private or public landowners and land managers. Key to the Program’s success is the involvement of public volunteers in all steps of the IBA process, from nominating sites to implementing conservation projects. A major goal is to establish volunteer support groups at all IBAs.
How does it work in Maryland and DC?
The development of an IBA involves the following steps:
A site is nominated by an individual or group with a good knowledge of the site and its birds and a concern for their conservation.
The nomination is reviewed against scientific criteria for site selection by the IBA Technical Review Committee. This committee is composed of leading experts on the birds of Maryland and DC and has representatives from State and Federal agencies, the ornithological community and the scientific community.
The site is identified as an IBA if it meets the criteria.
- The IBA is recognized by press release and perhaps a public dedication ceremony.
- Supporters and advocates for conservation at the IBA are brought together to form a volunteer support group for the site.
- A threat assessment is completed for each IBA. This helps to prioritize sites for conservation action.
- Monitoring schemes for birds and habitats are implemented. Volunteers play a central role in monitoring at IBAs, and training workshops will be organized to teach volunteers the appropriate monitoring techniques for target bird species and habitats.
- A conservation plan is written and implemented.
In Maryland and DC, other organizations as well as Audubon have been instrumental in implementing the IBA Program. The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) first initiated an IBA program in the late 1990s and the Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS) coordinated a volunteer effort to identify sites. Although a ‘first round’ of IBAs was identified, changes in the criteria for selecting sites left their status somewhat unclear. Recently, Audubon Maryland-DC resumed work on reviewing nominated sites with the help of generous support from our donors and from Maryland DNR via the State Wildlife Grants Program.