Posted on the 14th July 2013

(This article originally appeared in BirdLife South Africa's IBA NEWSLETTER 3 – WINTER 2013 and it reproduced with the permission of the Editor. Contact Dale Wright at if you want to receive the newsletter in future. - Ed.)

‘Here today, gone tomorrow.’
In this instance I’m referring not to the extinction risk facing so many birds, but rather to their habits. Together with fish and whales, birds are the most seasoned travellers of earth’s animals. Birds fly thousands of kilometres along very specific migration routes (or flyways) between the northern and southern hemispheres; that between Europe, Asia and Africa is known as the African–Eurasian flyway. These migrations, whether they are impressively far or simply local within southern Africa, are driven by the same forces – the birds’ needs to locate food, water, warm weather and roosting or breeding grounds.
In order to fulfil birds’ requirements, there must be a suitable complex of sites, locally and globally, where the various necessary elements can be obtained at some point during the year. As conservationists, to facilitate the survival of bird species it is our obligation to ensure that patchworks of sites exist to furnish those needs, and not to rely on single sites.
In this regard, Aristotle’s saying ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ could not be more true for the network of Important Bird Areas (IBAs). As with bird migration, the global IBA network is a transboundary and transcontinental initiative. Approximately 121 BirdLife country partners share the responsibility to conserve the more than 12 000 global IBAs. Each BirdLife country partner in turn establishes a local group of committed stakeholders who work together to secure their suite of IBAs.
Many of South Africa’s IBAs are the final destination on a migratory bird’s journey. Because most migrants disperse once they arrive in South Africa, there are not necessarily well-defined flyways in this country. The birds travel extensively between the 122 IBAs and, although the reasons for their local or nomadic movements are not well understood, they are often driven by food availability and weather events. Those birds which undertake local movements include wetland species that utilise systems of both perennial and ephemeral waterbodies, and forest species that travel between fragmented mosaics of forest patches.
For example, the Spotted Ground Thrush is a local altitudinal and seasonal migrant that moves along the east coast and between inland and coastal forests, while vultures move hundreds of kilometres between their feeding, roosting and breeding sites. It is particularly difficult to design a network of IBAs to accommodate birds which roam so widely.
I trust you will enjoy reading the articles in this winter issue of the IBA newsletter. They demonstrate just how important the network is for so many bird species.

Daniel Marnewick
Manager: Important Bird Areas and Regional Conservation Programme,
BirdLife South Africa,


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