“If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes,” said Charles Lindbergh.
Avian migration is a natural miracle. Migratory birds fly hundreds and thousands of kilometers to find the best ecological conditions and habitats for resting, feeding, breeding and raising their young. When conditions at breeding sites become unfavorable, it is time to fly to regions where conditions are better. Unfortunately, for birds (as is increasingly the case for humans), migration is a perilous journey. Every migration involves a wide range of threats, often caused by human activities including illegal trapping and hunting, collision with energy infrastructures (wind turbines and power lines), and loss of key stop-over feeding and resting sites.
On 10 May, we celebrate World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD), which aims to highlight this amazing natural phenomenon and increase awareness about the need to conserve these species and their habitats. Migratory birds are of great ecological and economic value to many countries and local communities. They contribute to biological diversity and bring tremendous enjoyment to millions of citizens like studying and watching. They are also becoming an important tool for nature-based tourism. And in addition, at a time of increasing tensions among countries and people, migratory birds can become shared resources to increase international understanding and cooperation.
In WMBD, many activities such as bird festivals, education programmes and birdwatching excursions are organized, united by a common theme; “Their Future is our Future – a healthy planet for migratory birds and people”.
WMBD throws light on the topic of “Sustainable Development for Wildlife and People”. It highlights the interdependence of people and nature, and more especially people and migratory animals – in particular birds, as they share the same planet and thus the same limited resources.
The 2017 campaign will aim at raising awareness of the need for a sustainable management of our natural resources, demonstrating that bird conservation is also crucial for the future of humankind.
Protecting Migratory Birds Requires Focus on Wetlands Habitats
Wetlands, which are areas of high ecological value and particular importance for biodiversity, constitute key resources for birds during their migrations around the world. Birds are the most apparent and familiar wildlife in wetlands. They rely on wetlands for all or part of their life cycle and the links between them are as old as their history. The relation between wetlands and birds is shaped by many factors:
- Wetland vegetation provides shelter from predators and from the weather. The presence or absence of shelter may influence whether birds will inhabit a wetland or a nearby upland area;
- Wetlands provide food for birds in the form of plants, fish, vertebrates, and invertebrates;
- Both estuarine and freshwater wetlands are an important stopover for many migratory birds during the migration season. They provide important places for resting, breeding and nesting for at least part of the year; and
- During large floods, wetlands support breeding colonies of waterbirds. Many species rely on the regular flooding cycles of wetlands (such as those on inland floodplains) to reproduce.
Effects of wetland loss and degradation on birds
The unwise use of wetlands, their loss and their degradation has a substantial effect not only on humans but also on birds. As the wetland habitats are drained or altered, the ability of these ecosystems to sustain bird populations decreases.
Wetland degradation is a serious problem for birds in many forms, and in particular:
- Wetland habitat loss in breeding areas translates directly into bird population losses. As wetlands are destroyed, some birds may move to other less suitable habitats and breed in poorer quality areas that will not contribute to a sustainable population through the years (Pulliam and Danielson, 1991);
- Decrease of invertebrate production and lowered oxygen levels due to the increase of algal blooms caused by nutrients and sediments entering the wetland from agricultural, urban, and industrial activities. This degradation reduces the acreage of seagrasses that form an important link in the food chain for invertebrates, fish, and wetland-dependent birds; and
- Alteration of wetland vegetation by harvesting or by introducing exotic species, rendering it of little or no value to wetland-dependent birds.
The well-being of bird populations is tied directly to the status and abundance of wetland habitats. To protect birds, we must restore the ecosystems which constitute their home and reinforce international agreements to protect wetlands of international importance.
We must also develop new bird conservation programs and initiatives which impose substantive obligations on all stakeholders for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats all over the world. Most of these efforts involve extensive public-private partnerships and the efforts and talents of volunteers.
The future of migratory birds and wetlands ultimately depends upon the level of public knowledge of the future generations. Investing in the education of young people is vital for the future of these species because in time they can build a prosperous, equitable and interesting society which lives in peace and harmony with birds.
If you are interested in organizing an event to mark WMBD, upload it on the link below:
Download WMBD Materials
Watch the video of WMBD 2017: Their Future is Our Future