Straight to content

For effective waterbird conservation along East Asian – Australasian Flyway, “best guess” is not enough

Published on:
  • Asian Waterbird Census
  • International Waterbird Census

Incheon, Ro Korea/Ede-Wagenignen, NL, 28 July, 2022 – There is an urgent need for ensuring updated waterbird population status information in order to protect migratory waterbirds that use the East Asian – Australasian Flyway (EAAF), many of which are threatened species. The findings are based on a new report: the first EAAF Conservation Status Review (CSR 1) (1) (2). It is the first time the population and distribution range of migratory waterbirds has been reviewed in the EAAF (3). 

The review covers 276 populations of 216 species of migratory waterbirds. Of these, 34 (16%) of the EAAF populations belong to species that have a globally threatened status (Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable) in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021 and a further 25 (12%) are Near Threatened. 

The review identifies major gaps and limitations in knowledge about the distribution, size estimates and trends of many populations which include:

  • 248 (90%) migratory waterbird populations have population size estimates. 
  • 45 (16%) of these population estimates are census-based, 81 (29%) are expert opinion and 122 (44%) are best guess. 
  • Data is currently not sufficient to propose population size estimates for 28 (10%) populations including herons, egrets, gulls, terns, rails, crakes, and allies.
  • Of the 90% of EAAF populations with a size estimate, 58% have an estimate of 100,000 individuals or fewer. 32% of populations have a geomean of the minimum and maximum estimate greater than 100,000 individuals, with 4% greater than 1,000,000 individuals.

The review urges strengthening existing monitoring programmes, establishing new monitoring programmes, and improving the systems and procedures to collate and synthesise new information – which requires local and national stakeholders’ engagement along with international collaborations – among many more recommendations.


Image of composite of the biogeographic population polygons of all 276 migratory waterbirds of 216 species that includes a minimum of two countries of the EAAF.


Understanding the current size and status of populations of waterbirds in the EAAF is a core requirement for the East Asian – Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) to deliver its strategy, which is to see that migratory waterbirds and their habitats in the East Asian – Australasian Flyway are recognised and conserved for the benefit of people and biodiversity (4) . The information provides a basis for identification of internationally important wetlands that can be designated as EAAF Flyway Network Sites and Ramsar Sites in the region. 

Ward Hagemeijer, Senior Advisor, Wetlands International, a waterbird and wetland ecologist, said:

This review is fundamental to protecting bird species, because as with protecting all biodiversity and prioritising conservation action, we need the most reliable and up-to-date information. The review presents an opportunity to understand what is at stake when it comes to some of our dwindling bird species so that we can better work together to protect them. Protecting bird species needs all of us; from conservationists, to scientists and researchers, to local communities and site managers, working with up-to-date knowledge at the heart of it all.” 

Taej Mundkur, lead author of the report, a nature conservationist with a doctorate in waterbird ecology and Senior Advisor at Wetlands International, said:

“For several species the Asian Waterbird Census data has been the sole source of information to calculate population trends. This demonstrates once again that the annual AWC programme that collates information collected by a large network of volunteers in every country provides critically valuable data for flyway assessments, and it needs to be strengthened.” (5) 

Prof. Nick Davidson, the  Chair of EAAFP Technical Sub-Committee, said:

“The CSR 1 report marks an important step for evaluating over 270 populations of migratory waterbird species in the EAA Flyway. The process also identified major gaps and limitations in the knowledge of the distribution, size estimates and trends of migratory waterbirds. Strengthening monitoring schemes and programmes, information exchange as well as capacity building to researchers, site managers, citizen scientists, are critical to address the gaps. On top of it, collaboration and support to fill in the gaps are necessary, and we hope that Conservation Status Review of migratory waterbirds in EAA Flyway would continue on a regular basis.”

Mr. Doug Watkins, the Chief Executive of East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership Secretariat, said that

“The first Conservation Status Review of all EAAF migratory waterbird populations reveals the joint effort and contribution from our Partners, Working Groups and Task Forces, experts and researchers. The distribution polygons are a new and valuable asset for the EAAFP. Thanks to the hard work by the Wetlands International team who leads the review, this report provides crucial new information to support designation of Flyway Network Sites, protected areas, assessment of wetlands, evaluation of population and distribution changes of migratory waterbirds. These are all fundamental for effective conservation measures.“

The CSR1 was produced by Wetlands International in collaboration with The East Asian–Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) Partners, Working Groups, Task Forces, and experts. 

The preparation of the review has been generously supported by the EAAFP Secretariat and the Norwegian Environment Agency. The development of the Waterbirds Population Portal on which this information is presented has been supported by the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi.

This review has been undertaken in collaboration and coordinated jointly with the EAAFP Secretariat. The information on waterbirds collected through the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) has been the basis for a majority of population trend assessments and other information presented in this report, with a tremendous amount of support and untiring efforts of a large network of volunteer participants, dedicated bird watchers, citizen scientists and conservationists. 

Notes to Editors

All population size estimates, trends, and boundary maps (produced for the first time) are available to the public on the Waterbird Populations Portal 

Link to the publication –

(1) The East Asian – Australasian Flyway (EAAF) is one of the major global flyways for migratory waterbirds, connecting the Alaskan and Russian breeding grounds with East Asia, South East Asia, and Australasia. The East Asian – Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) provides a flyway-wide framework to promote dialogue, cooperation, and collaboration between a range of stakeholders to conserve migratory waterbirds and their habitats. Read more about the partnership here.

(2) The CSR1 review contributes to Objective 3 of the EAAFP Strategic Plan 2019-2028: Enhance flyway research and monitoring activities, build knowledge and promote the exchange of information on waterbirds and their habitats list requires conservation status reviews for waterbird populations to be periodically produced to set and adapt priorities for action. To read more see here.

(3) The national and local stakeholders include Government agencies responsible for the conservation and management of waterbirds and wetlands, local site managers, business and private land owners managing important areas for waterbirds, NGOs, researchers, citizen scientists, and interested individuals.

(4) Read about the Asian Waterbird Census here.

Header Photo Credits – Earnest Tse