Migratory Bird Protection in Asia

October 10, 2020Lu Shegay & Zihao Yu


Migratory birds travel seasonally between south and north for breeding in summer and living through winter. Many species of birds have long-distance migration. For example, Manx shearwaters migrate 14,000 km (8,700 mi) between breeding and living areas. See more here.

Biogeographic Realms

The migratory birds of Asia travel between Asia and other places, which are referred to as different “biogeographic realms” or "ecoregions". According to WWF, there are some biogeographic realms in the world, which are Palearctic (East Palearctic and West Palearctic), Nearctic, Indo-Malay, Australasia, Oceania, Afrotropic, Neotropic, and the Antarctic. Asia is an important area that includes the areas of East Palearctic, Indo-Malay, part of West Palearctic, and part of Australasia, and connects to Afrotropic, Nearctic, and Oceania.


The migration route/traverse of the birds is referred to as “flyway” which is defined as “the biological systems of migration paths that directly link sites and ecosystems in different countries and continents” by Boere & Stroud.

There are nine major flyways in the world and six among them are in Asia, which are Central Asian Flyway, East Asian – Australasian Flyway, West Asian – East African Flyway, Central Pacific Flyway, the Black Sea/Mediterranean Flyway, and East Atlantic Flyway.


The Central Asian Flyway covers at least 279 migratory waterbird populations of 182 species. East Asian – Australasian Flyway covers 492 species of birds. 330 species use West Asian – East African Flyway.

There are some examples of the Migratory Birds of Asia: Sarus Crane, Red-Crowned Crane, Dalmatian Pelican, Demoiselle Crane, White-naped Crane, Ruddy Shelduck, and Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

Habitat loss, water shortages, diminishing food sources, and climate change and other human activities are threatening these flyways. There are many organizations focusing on the conservation of the flyways and migratory birds.

The protection and conservation of species of migratory birds remain problematic because these species inhabit various regions of the world and birds face challenges during their migration, which would be discussed below.

October 10th is the World Migratory Bird Day and the theme of 2020 is “Birds Connect Our World”.

Major Threats

All birds face various threats along their journey, but migratory birds endure some risks while they migrate. Different animals may experience different kinds of issues, but the majority of them come from three factors, such as the environmental impact, climate change, and human activity.

Environmental Impact and Natural Factors

During migration, birds are capable of flying long distances without rest. Exhaustion is one of the threats that birds face because they are likely to crash into some obstacles when they are tired, especially during unfavorable weather conditions, such as storms or wind patterns. Those obstacles include tall glass buildings, electrical wires and poles, wind turbines, and similar buildings and structures. Predators also cause threats to migrating birds because the latter are not aware of local predators, such as outdoor cats and feral cats.

Climate change and natural disasters, such as hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and blizzards, can destroy rest sides, stopovers of birds, as well as their food sources, and that leads to the birds’ injuries or even death. Habitat destruction, be it naturally or by human activities, causes starvation of birds and insufficient food supplies every year. Climate change is already affecting migratory birds and creates competition between migratory and non-migratory species.

Human Activities

Hunting, including illegal hunting, is one of the widespread activities that pose threats to migratory birds, and the hunting season in many cases coincides with migration periods. Oftentimes, even experienced hunters can make mistakes and shoot protected birds.

Pollution is another threatening factor for migratory birds given the number of factories and other aspects, such as lead poisoning or oil spills that can cause a lack of food. Moreover, toxins that birds ingest during their migration can cause their suffering, even long after they leave a certain area. In some cases, heavy pollution prevents birds from completing their migration successfully. Additionally, the infrastructure development of cables and towers remains serious threats, especially at key migration sites.

A lot of people do not realize the importance of birds, including migratory birds, and how humans can affect their population. The issue is in being misinformed - awareness shall be raised in public to take steps to protect these species.

Legal Protection

In 2008, 11% of migratory land birds and waterbirds were identified as threatened or near-threatened on the IUCN Red List, which showed that the number of birds has been critically threatened since 1988. The research showed that in 2007, 33% of species had unfavorable conservation status in Central, South, and East Asia.

The major legal issues to conserve migratory birds is the lack of effective management of their critical sites. Because these species of birds are migrating, the conservation level might be effective in one region and unaddressed in other habitats. It is crucial to address international cooperation and actions from countries to provide the key element in protecting migratory birds.

The U.S-Japan Convention

The Convention between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Japan for the Protection of Migratory Birds and Birds in Danger of Extinction and Their Environment prohibits taking of the migratory birds and their eggs, as well as any sale, purchase, or exchange of the birds or their eggs, taking illegally, alive or dead, and any sale, purchase, or exchange of the products thereof or their parts. However, the treaty provides exceptions, such as scientific, educational, propagative, or other specific purposes; for the purpose of protecting persons and property; with respect to private game farms, etc. The treaty also states that both Contracting Parties “agree that special protection is desirable for the preservation of species or subspecies of birds which are in danger of extinction.” Moreover, each Party shall take strive to take appropriate steps to “preserve and enhance the environment of birds protected under Articles III and IV.” Those include seeking means to prevent damage to such birds and their environment; endeavor to take measures to control the importation of live animals and plants which it determines to be hazardous to the preservation of such birds; and endeavor to take measures to control the introduction of live animals and plants which could disturb the ecological balance of unique island environments.


The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) is an international treaty aimed at the conservation of migratory species within their migratory ranges. This treaty was signed under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme with the main purpose of conservation of wild animals and their habitats on a global level. One of the fundamental principles is to acknowledge the importance of migratory species and the necessity to take action to improve the conservation status, which would be favorable for the species of wild animals and their habitat. CMS has Appendices with different levels of protection. Appendix I lists migratory species threatened with extinction where State Parties’ are bound by the duty to ensure strict protection of species. State Parties shall also prevent the taking of animals belonging to such species, except for the taking for scientific purposes, for accommodating the needs of traditional subsistence users of such species, for enhancing the propagation or survival of the affected species, and extraordinary circumstances. Appendix II includes migratory species that have unfavorable conservation status and that would significantly benefit from international cooperation, and these species serve as the basis for the establishment of regional or global instruments under the treaty. Therefore, Parties shall strive to conclude agreements that would be beneficial and would “give priority to the species in unfavorable conservation status.”

In the region of Asia, 19 countries are Parties to this Convention.

Ramsar Convention

Another global legally binding instrument is aimed at the conservation of migratory birds is the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, otherwise known as the Ramsar Convention. Contracting Parties meet at the Conference of Contracting Parties every three years to adopt decisions and improve the way in which Parties will be able to implement its objectives. 34 countries of Asia are Parties to this Convention.

Particularly speaking about the region of Asia, there is the Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Strategy, which has become the East Asian-Australian Flyway Partnership.


Asia covers a great variety of biogeographic Realms and flyways. The species of migratory birds are under the effect of climate change, environmental impact, and human activities that were mentioned above. Climate change affects the timing, breeding, and population declines of migratory birds. Human activities also have a big influence on the population of migratory birds, and they need legal protection and consideration from the public.

Because of the factors affecting species of migratory birds, it is necessary to take steps to prevent the decrease of the population. Those steps can include the protection of lowland forests in South-East Asia from agriculture activities, the protection of key sites and support of the development of the flyway-scale site networks, full implementation of regulations and guidelines provided by the CMS and the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia, monitoring the population of migratory birds to prevent early declines and take appropriate actions, etc.

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