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Follow The Bird! shows World Migratory Bird Day theme “Barriers to migration“


In their long journeys each year millions of migratory birds must cross many frontiers and obstacles. Therefore, ’Barriers to Migration’ is the theme of this year’s World Migratory Bird Day (9-10 May 2009). The Follow the Bird! initiative of Wetlands International has shown that many birds do not make it back home; decreasing stopover wetland sites, hunters, power lines, and even airplanes cross their paths of thousands of kilometers.

Together with Vogelbescherming Nederland and Bureau Waardenburg, Wetlands International has equipped ten Purple Herons with satellite transmitters on their breeding grounds in the Netherlands and followed them along their migration paths to their non-breeding grounds in west Africa. The journeys of each individual bird can be followed online through the website, which shows maps, photos and even videos of the birds and stopover wetlands in Africa.

Each day deserts are expanding and wetlands are being lost, more and more airplanes catch birds in their engines, skyscrapers are built, creating ever more barriers for migratory birds to cross.


Just two weeks ago, the Purple Heron named Gerrit (photo) made it back to the Netherlands having completed his long journey from Sierra Leone to Mali, across the Sahara Desert and Algeria crossing the Mediterranean and over Spain and France. Other birds, such as Terra Nova have vanished from the map since being last spotted in Mali past March and whose fate remains unknown.

Chain of stopover wetlands

This tracking study of the Purple Herons has identified a chain of stopover and non-breeding wetlands that are critical for the survival of the species. When one site is degraded or destroyed through its conversion into farmland or constructed over for urban or rural infrastructure, the chain loses a link. This requires for the birds to make even longer flights between safe resting and feeding sites or forcing them to stop at sub-optimal sites. This makes them more vulnerable to other threats such as hunters, power lines and wind farms.

Wetlands used by Purple Heron and other migratory waterbirds are also important for people who live and depend on these sites. In several countries, people have traditionally depended on the harvest of migratory birds as a means of subsistence and protein. As this has resulted in the declines of many populations - including of the Purple Heron - it highlights the need to ensure sustainability of such activities across the range of these migratory species. In the city of Mopti in Mali, for example, these migrating Purple Herons are sold for € 1.25 on the local market (photo: Purple Heron in the bourgou fields of Lac Debo, Inner Niger Delta, Mali).

Key to conserving migratory waterbirds

“Using the Flyway Approach, key sites of migratory birds used along in their journeys of thousands of kilometers can be identified and better managed, decreasing vulnerability of the species. Protecting these chains of wetlands is the key to conserving migratory waterbirds”, says Taej Mundkur, Flyway Manager of Wetlands International. “Addressing the needs of local people is a key ingredient to improving the management and conservation of wetlands for the benefit of people and migratory birds that share these sites.

World Migratory Bird Day activities

Wetlands International Africa together with Association pour la Sauvegarde des Oiseaux aux Sénégal (Bird Save Guarding Association of Senegal – ASOC) wil hold a conference for the fourth World Migratory Bird Day in the town of Mbour, Senegal (80 kms southeast of Dakar). A field visit will be held to the Sentier Ecologique du Mbour, a site managed by the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (Development Research Institute – IRD).

The Follow the Bird project is sponsored by Shell as part of their commitment to better understand wetlands and the linkage between wetland areas.


 Alex Kaat

Communication Manager Wetlands International

+31 (0)6 5060 1917


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