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On World Migratory Bird Day, UN calls for greater protection of habitats

White Pelican.
UNEP/AEWA/Sergey Dereliev
White Pelican.

On World Migratory Bird Day, UN calls for greater protection of habitats

As an estimated 50 billion birds commence their annual migrations, the critical staging areas they need to complete these journeys continue to be degraded or are disappearing completely, the United Nations today warned on this year's World Migratory Bird Day.

In his message marking the Day, celebrated each year in over 65 countries on 11 and 12 May, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored the need for greater international action in protecting the winged fauna and saving their natural habitats. With the stepping stones to their migration under increased pressure, some bird species could face extinction within a decade.

“I fully support the global campaign to raise awareness about the threats to migratory birds from habitat destruction, overexploitation, pollution and climate change,” Mr. Ban said in a news release in which he added his call for “greater international efforts to restore and preserve migratory birds and the network of sites they need to survive as an important part of the environment on which we all depend.”

Initiated in 2006, the Day is an annual campaign organized by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) – two intergovernmental wildlife treaties administered by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which also backs the campaign – and devoted to celebrating migratory birds and promoting their conservation worldwide.

In particular, through numerous bird festivals, education programmes, presentations, film screenings and birdwatching trips held in the participating countries, the Day highlights “the importance of ecological networks for the survival of migratory birds, the important human networks dedicated to their conservation, the threats migratory birds face, and the need for more international cooperation to conserve them,” reported a UNEP news release.

This year's Day, however, will mark the importance of the African-European Flyways where a regional event, to be held on the shores of Kenya's Lake Elementaita, will pay tribute to the 11 globally threatened bird species which are supported by the Kenya Lakes System.

“There are many reasons why migratory birds should be conserved – their beauty and behaviour are a source of joy and inspiration for millions upon millions of people,” UNEP's Executive Director, Achim Steiner, noted.

“But they also are part of the web of life that underpins nature's multi-trillion-dollar ecosystem services, while being in some countries, including Kenya, part of the nature-based tourism that generates 10 per cent of the nation's GDP,” he continued.

Many migrating birds – including cranes, storks, shoebirds and eagles – travel thousands of kilometres across flyways that span countries and continents. Nevertheless, pressures resulting from rapid urbanization, pollution and climate change have caused the steady loss of their natural habitats.

According to UNEP, the migratory waterbird species that depend on the intertidal habitats along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway – which stretches from Russia to New Zealand and encompasses some 22 countries – are showing “rapid decline” and are among the planet's “most-threatened migratory birds.”

“The decline is mainly caused by the fast pace of coastal land reclamation occurring in this densely populated region, particularly around key coastal staging areas in the Yellow Sea,” the UNEP press statement added.

However, with 19 per cent of the world's 10,000 bird species migrating annually around the globe, the UN environment agency pointed out that the responsibility of protecting their habitats was not just a regional one, but required a network of international assistance.

“Migratory birds and the challenges they face in many ways underline the ambition of multilateralism in a globalized world,” Mr. Steiner stated. “It is only when countries work together in common cause that the survival and conservation of these species be ensured.”