Audubon and Waterbird Conservation Today

Piping plover on beach
Sidney Maddock
Piping Plover chick

Audubon provides national leadership for the conservation of waterbirds through advocacy, public outreach, and the goals and approaches of many of its broad-level, science-based programs. By engaging the minds and souls of a diverse array of people - academics, wildlife managers, land and business owners, legislators, agency and non-profit personnel, concerned citizens, and citizen scientists - Audubon has achieved conservation successes on scales ranging from single-island breeding colonies to national-level landscapes.

Increasingly, Audubon is focusing protection and restoration efforts on large-scale habitat conservation initiatives, including those that function across particular states, regional ecosystems, and the continent. Several state-based programs have been developed to directly protect waterbird habitat, e.g.:

  • Audubon of Florida maintains many sanctuaries wherein more than 50 colonies of more than 50,000 breeding pairs of 28 waterbird species nest.
  • Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary includes 10,772 acres of bald cypress swamp and upland habitat, and the largest colony of Wood Storks in North America.
  • Audubon North Carolina monitors, manages, and protects more than 20 breeding areas for more than 23 waterbird species, including some of the most important nesting sites in North America for beach-nesting Least Terns, Gull-billed Terns, Black Skimmers, Wilson's Plovers, Piping Plovers, and American Oystercatchers.
  • Audubon Texas monitors and protects a network of 33 colonies and 14,000 acres of feeding habitat from Galveston Bay to pristine Lower Laguna Madre. At least 22 species of waterbirds benefit, including Roseate Spoonbills, Neotropic Cormorants, Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, and many species of herons, egrets, ibis, and terns. One of the protected colonies - Green Island - supports the world's largest colony of Reddish Egrets.

Regional ecosystem-based initiatives guide the protection of large bodies of water and associated watersheds, e.g.:

  • Audubon's Upper Mississippi River Campaign seeks to mediate anthropogenic effects and improve the ecological function, health, stability, and viability of the river and its associated habitats. The vast Mississippi River watershed provides essential habitat for millions of wetland-dependent birds, including Great Egrets, Sandhill Cranes, American Bitterns, Black Terns, and Common Terns.
  • Audubon's Great Lakes Restoration Campaign focuses on bird and other wildlife habitat protection and restoration in the Great Lakes watershed - one of the world's most significant ecological systems - on which the region's fisheries, birds, other wildlife, and people depend.
  • Audubon's Long Island Sound Campaign addresses the fundamental challenges of water quality restoration and habitat protection. Intense development pressure, recreational demands, and various commercial and industrial enterprises are taking a heavy toll on the Long Island Sound ecosystem. The Audubon partnership is committed to restoring marshes, beaches and islands, and improving water quality. The Campaign will further focus on protecting critical breeding, migratory, and wintering habitat for Piping Plovers, Roseate Terns, Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows, and other waterbirds.
  • Audubon's Everglades Campaign rests on ensuring the conservation and restoration of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. After decades of Audubon commitment to Everglades issues, Congress authorized, in 2000, $7.8 billion to be spent on conservation projects over 30 years. Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills are among the colonial waterbirds that will benefit from habitat protection and restoration.

Audubon's Science Division has developed several national-level programs that directly affect waterbirds:

Waterbirds on Working Lands

Nearly half of the landmass of the United States is "working land" - cropland, pastureland, and rangeland - that is rich in potential wildlife habitat. Audubon has partnered with The Monsanto Fund in its Waterbirds on Working Lands project, to identify and promote sustainable farming practices that will maintain the economic viability of working lands while measurably improving their value as bird habitat. The status of many waterbird populations directly reflects environmental health, and the goal of the Monsanto-Audubon partnership is to build a science-based conservation framework for engaging the producer community in efforts to measurably improve wetlands and agricultural landscapes for waterbirds.

Important Bird Areas

The Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program is part of an international effort to identify, conserve, and monitor a network of sites that provide critical resources for birds during the different periods of their life cycles (breeding, wintering, feeding, molting, and migrating). IBAs include reserves, local parks, working farms, ranches, and other private lands, as well as National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks, and other public, protected areas. There are several criteria for sites to qualify as IBAs, one of which is the presence of species, or groups of similar species (e.g., waterfowl or shorebirds), that are at risk because they occur at high densities due to their congregatory behavior. Thus waterbird conservation underlies many of the more than 1,800 IBAs - covering 69 million acres - identified across the United States.

Seabird Restoration Program

Audubon's Seabird Restoration Program (SRP) pioneered techniques to monitor, manage, restore, and create seabird colonies that are now standard practices and used worldwide. SRP manages a system of 13 islands off the coast of Maine that are home to more than 15,000 pairs of 22 species of nesting waterbirds. SRP also develops educational materials about seabirds and applies these in its outreach program to Maine schools. Coastal Bird Conservation Program Audubon's Coastal Bird Conservation Program (CBCP) works with Audubon State offices to protect the breeding, migratory, and wintering habitats of coastal bird species. CBCP is a field-based effort to identify and prioritize threatened species and their habitats, and to census, monitor, and map priority species' populations and distributions, in order to establish long-term protection programs. Recent triumphs have been achieved along 1000 miles of the coastal U.S. from Alabama to Mexico.

The Watchlist

Audubon's Watchlist is designed specifically to highlight species with the greatest conservation needs. By identifying at-risk species, this early warning system for bird conservation enables protective efforts to be undertaken while the chance for success is highest. Audubon's Watchlist webpages provide detailed information on conservation threats and management issues for approximately 200 species, including approximately 70 waterbirds.

Citizen Science

Citizen Science engages people of all kinds to collect information to further bird conservation. Monitoring bird numbers and population trends is an integral part of determining conservation goals and assessing the effectiveness of protective efforts. Audubon's Citizen Science program, established in 1900 with the first Christmas Bird Count, has contributed greatly to current understanding of the health of waterbird populations and the habitats upon which they depend.