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Flyway Conservation

Flyways: corridors of bird migration

The annual departure and arrival of migratory birds is a spectacle, which arouses emotions in many people and has symbolic meaning in numerous cultures around the world. Many of these birds travel vast distances, crossing several countries and entire continents during their annual migration cycle. Their journeys take them along invisible highways, often stopping at suitable sites along the way to feed, breed and rest. These international corridors of bird migration, which stretch from the breeding to the non-breeding areas of groups of birds (populations) are referred to as flyways.

Flyways have been defined as “the entire range of a migratory bird species (or groups of related species or distinct populations of a single species) through which it moves on an annual basis from the breeding grounds to non-breeding areas, including intermediate resting and feeding places as well as the area within which the birds migrate” (Boere & Stroud, 2006).

Changes at one site may have a detrimental effect on the success of the birds completion of their migration cycle and in effect on their survival. Conservation of migratory bird species must therefore aim at conserving all important sites found on the flyways. In addition, conservation efforts made by states and other actors are more effective if they are coordinated at the flyway scale. The need to conserve and manage all critical sites on a given flyway across borders is now recognized and called the flyway approach to conservation.

The Flyway Concept – Conservation Beyond Borders

Flyway conservation aims at conserving the important sites migratory bird species require along their entire migratory range. It recognizes that international cooperation is essential to ensure that migratory birds find the necessary resources and sites they need along their entire flyway to complete their annual journeys.

It calls upon states and the international conservation community to work together to understand the problems migratory birds encounter throughout their life cycle and encourages countries to co-operate to sustainably protect and manage populations of these species. The concept provides the overall framework for this international cooperation and has evolved into a broad policy framework encouraging international cooperation between governments and non-governmental organisations towards the trans-boundary, international flyway-scale conservation of migratory birds.

The Flyway Concept has been applied in various parts of the world for different groups of migratory bird species and geographical regions. It continues to be a valuable concept in formulating international conservation policy for the protection of migratory birds and the networks of critical sites upon which they depend. With the advent of legally binding multilateral treaties such as the Convention on Migratory Species (UNEP/CMS) in 1979 and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (UNEP/AEWA) in 1999, as well as several other formal and informal international Agreements and Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs), the concept has proved valuable in focusing attention on strategic needs for migrating birds within defined geographical regions.

In addition, several other international organisations - both governmental and non-governmental, are directly or indirectly applying the concept and are working to improve the flyway level conservation of migratory birds and the critical (for waterbirds - mostly wetland) sites they depend on. For example, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands as well as the global NGOs BirdLife International and Wetlands International continually engage in the conservation of migratory birds, (including waterbirds) and the important sites (mainly wetlands) along all the worlds flyways and fully recognize the principles behind the flyway approach to conservation.

These organisations were also engaged in the WOW Project that specifically aimed at bringing together and improving the conservation efforts for waterbirds migrating across the African-Eurasian flyways. In fact, the Wings Over Wetlands Project was in many ways a clear example of the Flyways Concept being implemented and international flyway conservation at work across Africa and Eurasia. 

For more information please see:

Boere, G.C. & Stroud, D.A. 2006. The flyway concept: what it is and what it isn’t. Waterbirds around the world. Eds. G.C. Boere, C.A. Galbraith & D.A. Stroud. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, UK. pp. 40-47.

For more information on the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (UNEP/AEWA) please see:

Photo: Sergey Dereliev (UNEP/AEWA)

A FLYWAY IS the entire range of a migratory bird species (or groups of related species or distinct populations of a single species) through which it moves on an annual basis from the breeding grounds to non-breeding areas, including intermediate resting and feeding places as well as the area within which the birds migrate.”

Gerard C. Boere & David A. Stroud, 2006.

Shorebird Map (Provided by:   )


A flyway also describes the geographical area of a group of migratory routes (for example African-Eurasian Flyway, Asian-Pacific Flyway) or a subunit of such an area. Different types of waterbirds have different flyway systems. On this subunit-scale, for example, eight major flyways have been identified for shorebirds (waders): the Pacific American, the Mississippi American, the Atlantic American, the East Atlantic, the Black Sea and Mediterranean, the West Asian-East African, the Central Asian, and the East Asian-Australasian flyways.

Please note: Some species cross and change flyways and different breeding populations of a species and even individuals within the same population show differences in the direction of their movements. Nevertheless, as birds do keep to a more or less regular path, it is still possible to define flyways and use the concept to help focus international conservation efforts.

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