Waterbird Conservation Initiatives

Northern Pintail on water
Howard B. Eskin

Waterbird conservation plans, programs, and efforts across the U.S. occur on many levels, including local, state, regional, national, and international. Over the last 20 years, several national- and continental-level "conservation initiatives" have been developed. These landscape-oriented conservation plans establish bird population and habitat goals, and have guided a wide range of successful on-the-ground conservation and management efforts across the U.S. These initiatives have been authored by partners with diverse backgrounds - representatives for state and federal governmental agencies, the scientific community, and non-governmental, public, and private organizations - and involve extensive public-private partnerships and the efforts and skills of citizen volunteers.

The major waterbird initiatives include:

North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI)

Although other initiatives pre-date NABCI , NABCI was launched in 1998 to facilitate the conservation of native American birds by increasing the effectiveness of existing and new bird conservation initiatives, enhancing coordination, and fostering greater cooperation among the nations and peoples of the North American continent. NABCI is envisioned as serving as a broad "umbrella" for the many bird conservation initiatives underway in the three nations of North America. The primary focus, at least initially, is the implementation of actions necessary to achieve population and habitat objectives laid out in the plans developed by the various bird conservation initiatives (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2006). Among the initiatives, the three most important regarding waterbird protection are those summarized below. The development worldwide of Important Bird Areas (IBA) Programs has greatly contributed to the implementation of NABCI. Important Bird Areas are broadly defined as areas providing essential habitat for one or more species of bird during breeding, wintering, or migratory seasons. Originated by BirdLife International in Europe, IBA programs are now implemented at local, regional, and national levels. In the U.S., the National Audubon Society is the BirdLife International Partner and in this capacity is responsible for implementing the U.S. IBA program.

North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP)

In response to record low numbers of waterfowl and sustained wetland losses in the mid-1980s, NAWMP was adopted by the U.S. and Canada in 1986 (Mexico joined U.S. and Canadian partners in 1994). The plan set forth a strategy for restoring waterfowl populations to 1970s levels through voluntary, non-regulatory, public-private partnerships that work to conserve the wetland habitats waterfowl need to survive. The plan is international in scope, yet implemented regionally. Implementation is achieved through partnerships called "Joint Ventures" which involve federal, state, provincial, and local governments, and businesses, conservation organizations, and individual citizens. Joint Ventures develop implementation plans for the protection, restoration, and enhancement of wetland and associated upland habitats (Ruth 2004, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2006).

United States Shorebird Conservation Plan (USSCP)

The USSCP provides a scientific framework for determining shorebird species, sites, and habitats most urgently in need of conservation action. The main goals of the plan, completed in 2000, are to ensure that adequate quantity and quality of shorebird habitat is maintained at local levels and to maintain or restore shorebird populations at continental and hemispheric levels. Because most species of shorebirds are long-distance migrants, this plan emphasizes protection of migratory stop-over sites (Ruth 2004) Complementing the work of the USSCP is the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network. WHSRN links wetland and associated upland sites essential to migratory shorebirds in a voluntary, non-regulatory program of research, training, and collaborative effort for habitat management, environmental education, and protection (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2006).

Waterbird Conservation for the Americas

This independent, international, broad-based, and voluntary partnership was created to link the work of individuals and institutions having interest and responsibility for conservation of waterbirds and their habitats in the Americas. The vision of Waterbird Conservation for the Americas is that the distribution, diversity, and abundance of populations and habitats of breeding, migratory, and nonbreeding waterbirds are sustained or restored throughout the lands and waters of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Waterbirds Conservation for the America's North American Waterbird Conservation Plan (Kushlan, JA, MJ Steinkamp, KC Parsons, et al. 2002) provides an overarching continental framework and guide for conserving waterbirds. It sets forth goals and priorities for waterbirds in all habitats from the Canadian Arctic to Panama, from Bermuda through the U.S. Pacific Islands, at nesting sites, during annual migrations, and during nonbreeding periods. It advocates continent-wide monitoring, provides an impetus for regional conservation planning, proposes national, state, provincial and other local conservation planning and action, and gives a larger context for local habitat protection (Waterbird Conservation for the Americas 2005).

Two other broad-based conservation initiatives have produced landscape-oriented bird conservation plans in the U.S.:

Partners in Flight (PIF)

PIF is an international effort launched in 1990 in response to growing concerns about declines in the populations of many landbird species. The initial focus was on species that breed in North America and winter in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, but the scope has increased to include all of the landbirds of the continental United States and Canada (Ruth 2004).

Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative

(NBCI) The NBCI is the first-ever landscape-scale habitat restoration and population recovery plan for northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) in the U.S. NBCI was developed by the directors of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in recognition of (1) the continuing serious decline of bobwhite populations across most of the species, range, and (2) the necessity for large-scale coordinated, collaborative action at the regional level.

(More on the conservation initiatives summarized above can be found at the Website of NABCI-U.S.: Bird Conservation Plans.)

Globally, many waterbird conservation efforts derive from the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975, and is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem. The Convention's member countries cover all geographic regions of the planet.


Ducks Unlimited. 2005. Conservation, Conservation Fact Sheets, North American Wetlands Conservation Act. (accessed 5/2/06)

Kushlan, JA, MJ Steinkamp, KC Parsons, et al. 2002. Waterbird Conservation for the Americas: The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan, Version 1. Waterbird Conservation for the Americas, Washington DC, U.S.A., 78 pp. (accessed 5/3/06)

Ruth, JM. 2004. A Guide to North American Bird Conservation - the four major plans and NABCI. U.S. Geological Survey, PIF Coordinator. (An electronic version of this document exists at the website of the California All-Bird Conservation Workshop.)

U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2004. Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farme Bill 2002, Wetlands Reserve Program, Key Points. (accessed 5/2/06)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2006. Bird Conservation Initiatives. (accessed 5/2/06)

Waterbird Conservation for the Americas. 2005. Waterbirds for the Americas: North American Waterbird Conservation Plan, Summary. (accessed 5/3/06)