Asian Waterbird Census for 1997-2001 launched at Global Flyways Conference


Global Flyways Conference 2004

Launch of Asian Waterbird Census 1997-2001

The Asian Waterbird Census, organized by Wetlands International, takes place annually in January and is carried out by volunteers interested in collecting information on waterbirds and wetlands as a basis for contributing to their conservation. Since it began in 1987, the AWC has covered more than 5,700 wetlands in 25 countries, and the publication edited by David Li Zuo Wei and Taej Mundkur and launched at the Global Flyways Conference on 4 April 2004 summarizes the results of counts from 1,392 sites in 22 countries, including 61 Ramsar Sites. The AWC is a vital part of the assembly of data for the global Waterbird Population Estimates, regularly published by Wetlands International and now in its 3rd edition, which are used by Ramsar Contracting Parties to evaluate potential Ramsar Sites according for Criteria 5 and 6 for designating Wetlands of International Importance (Resolution VIII.38). The 166-page softcover publication is available from the Natural History Book Service,, and perhaps available for PDF download soon as well (to be confirmed).

Foreword by the Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands

This important publication is the result of the Asian Waterbird Census (part of the International Waterbird Census) from 1997 to 2001. The report provides valuable and important data on waterbird population, distribution and status, with reference to wetland habitats. Information presented in this report will contribute greatly to efforts towards the conservation of both waterbirds and wetlands, including Wetlands of International Importance.

The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) is the oldest of the global environmental conventions. It has always given particular attention to waterbirds, since its inception stemmed from widespread concern over the destruction of wetlands and the impact of this destruction on waterbirds, and other components of biological diversity. It remains of major concern to the Convention that such loss and deterioration of both coastal and inland wetlands continues to be widespread. Nowhere are these pressures greater that in Asia, owing to the needs and demands of the region's large and growing human population. Wetlands International acts as a formal International Organisation Partner (IOP) of the Convention, and the waterbird information compiled through the International Waterbird Census is important to Contracting Parties, in helping them implement their obligations under the Convention.

The International Waterbird Census is unique. With the increasing link-up with waterbird monitoring schemes in North America, it is becoming truly global in its scope, and it is probably the only global wildlife monitoring scheme of its kind. It not only identifies key wetlands for waterbirds but also permits assessment of the status and trends of waterbird populations at the biogeographical scale. Such assessments, and the monitoring schemes from which they are derived, are crucial to government's environmental management. In particular, they will help governments try to significantly reduce the rate of loss of biological diversity by 2010; a goal affirmed by the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Asian Waterbird Census "counts" can help to identify those wetlands which qualify for designation as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar sites), particularly in the application of Ramsar Criteria 5 (sites which regularly support >20,000 waterbirds) and 6 (sites which regularly support 1% or more of a population of waterbirds).

In addition, the data gathered through the Asian Waterbird Census make a vital contribution to the understanding of waterbird status at the biogeographic scale, notably through the assessment of population sizes and trends for the Waterbird Population Estimates, regularly published by Wetlands International. These estimates provide the basis, endorsed by the Ramsar Convention, most recently through Resolution VIII.38, for 1% population thresholds in the application of Ramsar site designation Criterion 6.

Finally, on behalf of the Ramsar Secretariat, I would like to thank Wetlands International for its painstaking efforts in compiling and producing this report. We encourage Contracting Parties to use this publication as a reference for their national conservation activities, as well as helping them contribute to international conservation efforts.

Peter Bridgewater
Secretary General
Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)



The Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) was initiated in 1987 and runs in parallel with other waterbird census in carried out in Africa, Europe, Central and West Asia and Latin America under the umbrella of the International Waterbird Census (IWC), which is organised by Wetlands International. The IWC is the largest and longest running faunal monitoring programme in the world.

The AWC started on the Indian subcontinent in January 1987 and has grown rapidly to cover Asia, Australasia and eastern Russia. Since 1987, a total of more than 5,700 sites from 25 countries have been counted at least once.

The AWC census takes place annually, during the second and third weeks of January, and is carried out by volunteers interested in collecting information on waterbirds and wetlands as a basis for contributing to their conservation.

The data collected by the AWC have been used in various reports and contribute to a range of conservation activities from local to global levels, including:

  • species and site conservation and research programmes and campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of wetlands in many countries;
  • the development of national wetland and waterbird conservation Action Plans and Strategies;
  • the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, in identifying wetlands of international importance through regular monitoring of waterbirds and Ramsar List sites;
  • the Convention on Migratory Species, by monitoring the status of migratory waterbirds and their habitats;
  • the Convention on Biological Diversity's goal of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity;
  • the implementation of the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy: 2001-2005, through monitoring of waterbirds and their sites, including sites listed under the three East Asian-Australasian Migratory Waterbird Site Networks;
  • BirdLife International's Important Bird Area (IBA) Programme;
  • IUCN/BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Update (GTB) Programme; and
  • Wetlands International's Waterbird Population Estimates (WPE).

The data given in this publication represent the results of the AWC from 1997 to 2001.

Highlights of the 1997-2001 censuses

A total of 22 countries participated in the censuses and 1,392 sites were covered at least once between 1997 and 2001. Of the sites covered, a total of 61 have been designated as internationally important sites under the Ramsar Convention (as at 31 December 2003), 32 as Migratory Waterbird Network Sites in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (as at 31 December 2003) and 43 Important Bird Areas (as stated in BirdLife International's IBA publications for Cambodia, Lao PDR, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, as at 31 December 2003).

Eighty-two sites in 10 countries - about 6% of the total number of sites counted - were reported to support more than 20,000 birds. Of these 82 sites, 22 (ca. 27%) are Ramsar sites and 11 (ca. 13%) belong to the Migratory Waterbird Site Networks in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

Total numbers of waterbirds counted were 2,223,805 (314 sites), 1,794,280 (385 sites), 3,266,649 (625 sites), 3,233,096 (594 sites) and 4,571,522 (770 sites) in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 respectively.

Totals of 291 species of waterbirds and 15 species of wetland-dependent raptors (birds of prey) were recorded. Over 43% of these are restricted to the region covered by the census (126 waterbird species and seven species of wetland-dependent raptors). The ten most numerous species were Mallard Anas platyrhynchos (489,652 in 2000), Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata (259,155 in 2001), Northern Pintail Anas acuta (237,105 in 2001), Baikal Teal Anas formosa (231,482 in 1999), Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope (207,936 in 2001), Common Teal Anas crecca (194,723 in 2001), Gadwall Anas strepera (188,631in 2001), Common Coot Fulica atra (178,458 in 2001), Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilorhyncha (161,494 in 2000) and Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula (160,280 in2001).

Thirty seven of the species recorded are recognized as globally threatened, according to BirdLife International (2001). They include two Critically Endangered, 11 Endangered and 24 Vulnerable species; 31 of these are restricted to the region covered by the census. In addition, 17 Lower Risk species (one Conservation Dependent, 16 Near Threatened) were recorded. Good coverage of at least 14 congregatory threatened species (Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis, Oriental Stark Ciconia boyciana, Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor, Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus, Swan Goose Anser cygnoides, Baikal Teal Anas formosa, White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala, Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis, Hooded Crane Grus monacha, Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis, White-naped Crane Grus vipio, Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus, Saunders' Gull Larus saundersi, and Indian Skimmer Rynchops albicollis) reinforces the value of the census in monitoring the distribution and abundance of these threatened populations and the need for additional attention to be paid to enhancing this role. A total of 145 species covered by the census are listed in the Appendices of the Convention on Migratory Species; of which 35 are globally threatened and Lower Risk species and are listed in Appendix 1 while 10 species are listed in Appendix II. Additionally, 26 species are listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); 14 (including 12 globally threatened and Lower Risk species) and 12 (including three globally threatened and Lower Risk species) species are listed in Appendices I and II respectively.

Information on uses of and threats to sites reporting more than 20,000 waterbirds revealed strong anthropogenic influences through fishing, agriculture at and around the sites, and overgrowth of vegetation (on-site uses and threats), with eutrophication resulting from on-site activities and in the catchments, through, for example, pollution (domestic sewage, fertilisers, solid wastes, etc.) and excessive siltation. Of concern is the reported partial or complete reclamation of a small proportion of these internationally important sites. Improved reporting of information on uses and threats at all sites is being promoted to provide a more comprehensive mechanism to increase our knowledge base and to enable preventive actions to be undertaken in a timely manner through local and international action.

The collection of data was coordinated and carried out by a dedicated volunteer network of National/Subnational Coordinators and over 1,000 volunteers in 22 countries.

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