Ecological definition

Migratory birds are species where a substantial proportion of the global or a regional population makes regular cyclical movements beyond the breeding range, with predictable timing and destinations (Kirby et al. 2008).

CMS (Convention on Migratory Species) definition

Migratory birds are the entire population or any geographically separate part of the population of any species or lower taxon of wild birds, a significant proportion of whose members cyclically and predictably cross one or more national jurisdictional boundaries (Kirby et al. 2008).

Migratory Waterbirds are defined broadly as migratory birds ecologically dependent on wetlands.

For the purpose of the Partnership, migratory waterbirds include populations of shorebirds, Anatidae (ducks, geese and swans), cranes, and seabirds (for example Divers, Cormorants, Gulls, Shearwaters, and Auks) and several other groups, which cyclically and predictably cross one or more national jurisdictional boundary
(see Partnership Document, Appendix 2).

Large numbers of migratory waterbirds often congregate at staging sites (typically, few such sites) for refueling during their journeys, especially before crossing large ecological barriers. Consequently, the loss of staging wetlands may have critical impacts on successful journeys and survival of migratory waterbirds.

Spreadsheet of bird names and translations in partner languages.

Taxonomic groups of waterbirds migrating within the East Asian-Australasian Flyway

Taxonomic Group English Name
Anatidae Swans, Geese and Ducks
Podicipedidae Grebes
Phaethontidae Tropicbirds
Heliornithidae Finfoots
Rallidae Rails, Gallinules and Coots
Gruidae Cranes
Gaviidae Divers/Loons
Hydrobatidae Northern storm petrels
Oceanitidae Austral storm petrels
Procellariidae Shearwaters and Petrels
Ciconiidae Storks
Threskiornithidae Ibises and Spoonbills
Ardeidae Herons, Egrets and Bitterns
Pelecanidae Pelicans
Fregatidae Frigatebirds
Sulidae Gannets and Boobies
Phalacrocoracidae Cormorants and Shags
Haematopodidae Oystercatchers
Recurvirostridae Stilts and Avocets
Charadriidae Plovers
Jacanidae Jacanas
Scolopacidae Sandpipers
Glareolidae Pratincoles
Laridae Gulls, Terns and Skimmers
Stercorariidae Skuas and Jaegers
Alcidae Auks, Murres and Puffins


Kirby, J.S., Stattersfield, A.J., Butchart, S.H.M., Evans, M.I., Grimmett, R.F.A., Jones, V.R., O’Sullivan, J., Tucker, G.M. & Newton, I. 2008. Key conservation issues for migratory land- and waterbird species on the world’s major flyways. Bird Conservation International 18: S49-S73.

The Waterbird Population Estimates (WPE) online database provides current and historic estimates, trends and 1% thresholds for over 800 waterbird species and 2300 biogeographic populations worldwide. This project has been developed by Wetlands International with the support of Environment Canada and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

The online database makes it easy to obtain information on the status of waterbird species, providing a comprehensive basis for management and decision making. All previous editions of the WPE series are included, and the latest Conservation Status Reports for the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement. The main objectives of these series has been to:

(i) identify wetlands of international importance through the application of the 1% threshold criteria under the Ramsar Convention;

(ii) identify priorities for conservation and research to maintain global waterbird biodiversity;

(iii) identify gaps in knowledge of the world’s waterbird populations;

(iv) support the development of three global conventions – the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Convention on Migratory Species and the Convention on Biological Diversity;

(v) support the development of regional/flyway initiatives, including the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) under the Convention on Migratory Species; the Convention on the Conservation of European Flora and Fauna (Berne Convention); the East Asian - Australasian Flyway (EAAF) Partnership; the European Union Birds Directive; and the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN).

Download the Waterbird Population Estimates 5 (2012)

For more information about the Waterbird Population Estimates by Wetlands International, please click here