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Important Bird Areas in Mexico - A Proactive Approach

Until very recently conservation actions for birds in Mexico were scarce and noncoordinated despite high species diversity and multiple threats to many of them. Many of "our" migratory birds winter there when food and habitat are gone here for the winter. (See Winter Homes for American Birds for partial listing. Whatever Mexico can do for its birds helps us. Here is something to watch:

In 1996, the Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program was installed in Mexico as part of a trilateral project between Mexico, the US and Canada, within the framework of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Important Bird Area Program aims to establish a worldwide network of places considered critical for the long-term conservation of those populations of birds naturally occurring in them. Ideally, each Important Bird Area should be large enough to maintain viable populations of focal species. It is hoped that IBAs can be used as a tool to identify gaps in the system of protected natural areas.

With the help of a network of orithologists, specialists, and people interested in promoting bird conservation through cooperation, target areas have been identified, using standardized criteria. For each IBS selected, a technical description was prepared including biological and geographical information, and a list of birds recorded, specifying categories of abundance and seasonal occurrence. The final list included 230 IBAs representing 1,038 species of birds (96.3% of the species recorded in Mexico), and 306 species of conservation concern (90.2% of the nationally threatened species and 100% of Mexican birds listed by BirdLife International as having some degree of threat). In 2000, a book compiling this information was published with the sponsorship of numerous organizations (including the American Bird Conservancy and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation), and an electronic version is currently available in the internet hosted by CONABIO (

Work has proceeded on regional criteria for prioritization. Sixteen (16) sites have been classified as priority areas for bird conservation in Mexico. If successful, the Mexico Program will conserve 805 species (75% Mexican avifauna), 55% of the globally threatened species, and 81% of the species endemic to Mexico. After further winnowing, the first Important Bird Areas in Mexico have been selected: El Carricito del Huichol, an old-growth pine forest representing one of the few remnants of this vegetation type growing in the western coast of Mexico that still preserves its biological integrity. More recently, a second area, Sian Ka'an in the Yucatan Peninsula, was adopted as a sister project developed cooperatively between Panama, Mexico, and Canada. Four more areas are on the drawing board.

This is hope for our birds, as well as theirs. Try to keep an eye on it.

Source: Ma.del Coro Arizmendi, Laboratorio de Ecologia, ENEP, Iztacala UNAM/Bird Conservation, Issue 15, Spring 2001, American Bird Conservancy and Partners In Flight.

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