Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are sites that provide essential habitat for one or more species of bird. IBAs include sites for breeding, wintering, and/or migrating birds. IBAs may be a few acres or thousands of acres, but usually they are discrete sites that stand out from the surrounding landscape. They may include public or private lands, or both, and they may be protected or unprotected. The Richmond Audubon Society had adopted the Lower James River IBA as a focus to its service and conservation efforts. RAS is also involved with Team Warbler Project, RVA’s Great Blue Heron Rookery Project, and TogetherGreen Tree Planting at Presquile NWR to conserve Important Bird Areas in our home city.
Virginia is a state rich with natural beauty and awe-inspiring diversity. Extending from the expansive forests and pastoral beauty of the ridge and valley, to the rolling hills and woodlands of the Piedmont, to the extensive marshes and remote barrier islands of the coastal plain, Virginia has a remarkable breadth of habitats. Not surprisingly, this incredible habitat diversity supports an equally impressive diversity of bird life. Over 400 bird species have been recorded breeding, wintering, or migrating through Virginia. Native birds bring enjoyment, educational opportunities, and economic vitality to many parts of our state and have helped to maintain the biological integrity that our natural world so intimately depends upon. Unfortunately, many of these birds are currently facing significant threats in Virginia and across the globe. In the United State alone, over 23% of our nation’s bird species have fallen into significant decline over the past 40 years (Butcher 2004), many of which were once considered to be common. An additional 160 have been listed on the Audubon WatchList and 33 are currently listed on the Federal Threatened or Endangered Species list (excludes Hawaii). Here in Virginia, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Wildlife Action Plan has listed 96 bird species that are of concern, 30 of which are either state or federally listed.
The reasons for such remarkable declines are many but most are tied directly or indirectly to the myriad impacts of our human-dominated landscape. Much of the historical wildlife habitat has been lost or degraded by development, high-intensity agriculture, or extraction industries. Remaining natural areas are often threatened by invasion from exotic plants and animals, support unnaturally high predator populations, or are heavily grazed by over-abundant deer populations. The burgeoning impacts of global warming are also beginning to threaten critical wildlife habitat through sea level rise and climate-induced habitat shifts. Given the myriad diversity of threats to native wildlife among an ever-expanding human population, it is urgently important that we identify the best remaining habitats for birds and work to protect these areas. It is in this way that we can most effectively ensure the future of our native bird populations.
The Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program was initiated as a way to address this important need and to begin strategically protecting habitat for imperiled bird populations from the grassroots up. The Program was born out of the recognition that all habitats are not created equal and that the most effective conservation strategy will focus on protecting the very best sites. Areas that support the most significant abundance and/or diversity of native birds or that support species of conservation concern are preferentially targeted over less essential habitats. This proactive approach to bird conservation targets the habitats that are most likely to sustain sensitive bird populations over the long term, thereby ensuring that our efforts have the greatest impact on the species that are in the most need.
The IBA Program is guided by two fundamental and very simple objectives. First identify those areas that provide essential habitat for nesting, migrating, or wintering bird species and then work to conserve those sites.
The Virginia IBA program has been funded by: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Dominion Foundation, Virginia Audubon Council, Virginia Society of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Virginia Audubon Chapters