Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring Program


This innovative program uses monitoring information in an adaptive management framework integrated across three spatial scales to inform management decisions for waterbirds. The goal is to optimize resource management decisions at the flyway, regional and local scales by collecting information needed to guide decisions that managers have agreed upon are the most important.  It relies upon strong collaboration among conservation partners located along the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways. The focal species are wetland-dependent migratory birds (i.e. waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds) surveyed throughout the non-breeding period.  

 The objective of the Integrated Waterbirds Management and Monitoring (IWMM) Initiative is to "sustain continental waterbird population goals by providing the information to guide future management decisions regarding where to focus staff time, funding and other resources on habitat acquisition, restoration, and management along migration routes."  At the flyway scale, the primary decisions relative to resource allocations should result in an appropriate quantity and quality of habitat at a set of stop-over and wintering sites that meet the energetic demands of the target population of migrating and wintering waterbirds.  At the regional scale, resources are allocated to those management sites where the greatest waterbird return on investment can be realized.  At the local scale, managers collect monitoring data and use adaptive management to improve habitat quality and optimize waterbird use at each site.  

 Vegetation and bird protocols were developed to match bird counts to management objectives and habitat characteristics.  Vegetation variables recorded for each survey unit include: salinity, top four co-dominant plant species, stem density, vegetation height, interspersion, and a photo of the survey unit.  Variables recorded for each bird count include: an estimate of the numbers of birds by species, disturbance severity score, disturbance source, weather, water depth, water gauge reading (if available), and flooding regime.


Monitoring is set within a decision framework designed to improve habitat delivery and management with the long-term goal of sustaining waterbird populations. Data sheets and protocols are available online, and data can be entered online.  The website also includes forums for teams developing the surveys and collecting data, allowing for interactive development of a monitoring effort.  


Complexity of the project has led to long development time and will require a sustained commitment or reprogramming of resources to transition it to an operational program.  

Examples of use

The first pilot season was completed in Fall/Winter 2010-11.  Surveys were completed at 89 pilot sites across the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast.  A total of 2800+ individual bird counts were conducted that recorded over 1.7 million birds.  The recently formed Avian Health and Disease Program within the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird program is partnering with the IWMM to establish a baseline for measuring avian health across large spatial scales.  

For more information