North American Bird Conservation Initiatives

North American Waterfowl Management Plan

In 1985, many waterfowl populations were at record lows as a result of wetland and grassland loss, drought, and other factors. The wetlands that waterfowl depend on for survival were disappearing at a rate of 60 acres per hour during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Recognizing the importance of waterfowl and wetlands to North Americans and the need for international cooperation to help in the recovery of a shared migratory bird resource, the Canadian and United States governments developed a strategy to restore waterfowl populations through habitat protection, restoration, and enhancement. The strategy was documented in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) signed in 1986 by the Canadian Minister of the Environment and the United States’ Secretary of the Interior. In 1994, Mexico became a signatory to the Plan.

The NAWMP provides strategic direction, waterfowl population goals, status of waterfowl species, and administration for wetland/waterfowl conservation through the regional Joint Ventures — JVs are considered the “vehicle” to achieve this continental-scale waterfowl plan. The NAWMP is periodically assessed and updated, with revisions in 1994, 1998, and 2004. The NAWMP Plan Committee envisions increased coherence between waterfowl population (harvest) and habitat management in the next version of the plan.


In 1986, a publication was released highlighting 15 years of North American Breeding Bird Survey data, from 1965-1979. This document expressed concern about declines in many populations of songbirds, especially neotropical migrants. After several years of discussion and associated legislative action, a broad consortium of entities interested in bird conservation came together, resulting in the formation of Partners-In-Flight (PIF) in 1990.

PIF is a voluntary international partnership between multiple agencies, NGOs, foundations, and others, with the broad goals of helping species at risk of becoming threatened or endangered, and keeping common birds common. Originally, neotropical migrants were the focus of the partnership, but efforts eventually expanded to cover most bird species that require terrestrial habitats. PIF has developed a multitude of bird conservation plans, guidance documents, and other valuable resources for use by organizations responsible for or interested in bird conservation.

Recent documents of note developed by PIF include the “North American Landbird Conservation Plan,” which provides a continental synthesis of priorities and objectives for all 448 species of landbirds breeding in the United States and Canada, and “Saving our Shared Birds,” which further highlights the need for hemispheric conservation of bird habitat on the wintering grounds in Mexico, both for species that breed in the United States and Canada, and resident species in Mexico.

U.S Shorebird Conservation Plan

Partners affiliated with state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and universities from across the United States combined their resources and expertise to develop a conservation strategy for shorebirds and the wetlands upon which they depend. This strategy, called the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan (USSCP), provides a scientific framework to determine species, sites, and habitats that most urgently need conservation action. Main goals of the USSCP, completed in 2000, are to ensure adequate quantity and quality of shorebird habitat maintained at the local, continental, and hemispheric levels to sustain or restore shorebird populations to goal levels. The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan Council serves as the steering committee for the USSCP and oversees the implementation of plan objectives.

Separate technical reports were developed for a conservation assessment, research needs, a comprehensive monitoring strategy, and education and outreach. These national assessments were used to “step down” or apportion continental goals to 11 regional conservation plans. One of these regional plans, the Upper Mississippi/Great Lakes Shorebird Conservation Plan, was used extensively in the development of the JV Shorebird Habitat Conservation Strategy.

Waterbird Conservation for the Americas

The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan, published in 2002, is a product of Waterbird Conservation for the Americas, a voluntary, international partnership developed to support the conservation of 210 species of waterbirds in 29 countries. Species defined as “waterbirds” include loons, grebes, cormorants, pelicans, herons, gulls, terns, rails, coots, and cranes, among many others. The plan provides a “continental framework” for the management and conservation of these species. Specific goals include 1) ensure sustainable abundance, diversity, and distribution of waterbird species, 2) protect, restore, and manage key sites and high quality habitat for waterbirds, 3) disseminate information on waterbird conservation to decision makers, the public, and those whose actions impact waterbirds, and 4) coordinate and integrate waterbird conservation efforts, guided by common principles, across geographic boundaries.

A step-down waterbird conservation plan was completed in 2010 for the Upper Mississippi Valley/Great Lakes (UMGL JV) region. It identifies priority species, threats, regional population estimates and trends, key sites, and recommended conservation actions for the 34 species that breed in the UMGL JV region, which overlaps a large portion of the UMGL JV region.

The North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI)

NABCI was created in recognition that many bird species, across taxa and habitats, are experiencing significant and in some cases severe population declines. A variety of bird conservation partnerships (see above) have been initiated to address the needs of various bird groups. While these individual partnerships have generated many notable successes, overlap in effort was apparent, thus common interests of all may be achieved more effectively through integrated planning and delivery. In short, the goal of NABCI is to better coordinate the efforts of multiple bird conservation partnerships on a landscape level. In order to facilitate the integrated conservation of all bird species at a regional scale, NABCI developed a geographical network of Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs), based on similar landscape cover types and associated bird species. Each of the four major bird plans listed above has adopted BCR boundaries and continue to integrate these units into their respective plan revisions.