Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are sites of global conservation importance identified using birds to locate key sites for conservation across the globe. They are practical tools for conservation. IBAs are identified using standard internationally agreed criteria, which are; objective, quantitative and scientifically defensible. IBAs vary in size however, they must be large enough to support self-sustaining populations of those species for which they are important. When selecting IBAs the existing protected area system forms the backbone of the IBA network with additional sites being added to fill in the gaps. IBAs therefore do not cover all bird species and, for some, IBAs may only be appropriate across part of their range (e.g. the wide ranging raptors) or are only so in part of their life cycle e.g. birds using sites only seasonally for breeding. It is therefore necessary for IBAs to be considered a part of a wider, integrated approach to conservation that includes sites, species, and habitat protection. IBAs are important for other biodiversity, for example in Uganda; IBAs contain various mammals, fish, reptiles and insects and therefore are important biodiversity areas.


  • The function of the IBA programme is to identify and protect a network of sites, at a scale large enough to ensure long term survival of naturally occurring bird populations.
  • It is meant to cover the range of those bird species for which a site-based approach is appropriate.
  • The IBA process has been used to build institutional capacity and set an effective conservation agenda for biodiversity in many countries.


There are four categories used to identify IBAs as explained below:

  • In the category of globally threatened, species threatened with extinction are considered. The criterion looks for a site that regularly holds significant number of globally threatened species or other species of global conservation concern. These include:

        Critical or Endangered (CR) – considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild

        Vulnerable (VU) – considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild

        Conservation dependent (CD) - the focus of a continuing taxon-specific or habitat-specific conservation programme is necessary for the


        Data deficient (DD) - inadequate information to make a direct, or indirect, assessment of its risk of extinction.

        Near threatened (NT) - is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.

  • In the category of restricted range, species have highly restricted distribution. The criterion looks for a site known or thought to hold a significant component of the restricted range species i.e. species restricted to Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs) or Secondary Areas (SA).

          Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs) are places where two or more species of restricted range occur together.

          Secondary Areas (SA) are places supporting one or, rarely, more restricted range species but does not qualify as an EBA.

  • Biome restricted species looks at sites holding species that are characteristic of a particular biome. The criterion looks for a site known or thought to hold a significant component of the group of species whose distributions are largely or wholly confined to one Biome. The site must be one of the set of sites selected to ensure that as far as possible, all species restricted to that biome are adequately represented.

  • The criterion congregatory species looks for sites holding exceptionally large numbers of congregatory birds. The sites may qualify under any of the following:         

          A site is known or thought to hold, on a regular basis, ≥ 1% of a biogeographic population of congregatory waterbird species.

          A site is known or thought to hold, on a regular basis, ≥ 1% of the global population of a congregatory seabird or terrestrial species.

          A site is known or thought to hold on a regular basis, ≥ 20,000 waterbirds or ≥ 10,000 pairs of seabirds of one or more species.

          A site is known or thought to exceed thresholds set for migratory species at bottleneck sites.