The selection of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) is achieved through the application of quantitative ornithological criteria, grounded in up-to-date knowledge of the sizes and trends of bird populations. The criteria ensure that the sites selected as IBAs have true significance for the international conservation of bird populations, and provide a common currency that all IBAs adhere to, thus creating consistency among, and enabling comparability between, sites at national, continental and global levels.
It is crucial to understand why a site is important, and to do this it is necessary to examine its international significance in terms of the presence and abundance of species that occur there, year round or seasonally. At the global level, a set of four categories and criteria are used to assess the significance of the site, while in Europe and the Middle East additional criteria have also been used (see subsequent pages).
A main aim of the IBA Programme of BirdLife International is to attain an appropriate form of protection for IBAs, and the provision of convincing bird data is an essential part of any argument for statutory protection. Importantly, the application of criteria to significant species, together with future data-gathering and the development of monitoring programmes, permit not only the assessment of changes in species’ numbers but also an examination of how these changes impact on the overall importance of the site, thus helping to guide the management and conservation of the area.
The more specific, quantitative and comprehensive is the information available on IBAs, with links showing the fulfilment of obligations laid out in various EC directives and international conventions, the stronger is the case for protection. To this end, the criteria build upon existing international legal instruments such as the EC Birds Directive which obliges the designation of Special Protection Areas in the European Community, and the Ramsar Convention under which contracting parties must designate at least one Ramsar Site.
Click on any of the pages below to review the more detailed desriptions of the individual IBA criteria.