Guidance on waterbird monitoring methodology: Field Protocol for waterbird counting

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Courtesy of Wetlands International

1.Guidance on waterbird monitoring methodology

1.1. What are waterbirds?
Waterbirds have been defined as 'species of bird that are ecologically dependent on wetlands'. This is the definition used by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. For the purposes of the International Waterbird Census, all species in the following families are considered by Wetlands International to be waterbirds: Gaviidae (Divers/Loons), Podicipedidae (Grebes), Pelecanidae (Pelicans), Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants), Anhingidae (Darters), Ardeidae (Herons), Scopidae (Hamerkop), Ciconiidae (Storks), Balaenicipitidae (Shoebill), Ciconiidae (Storks), Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills), Phoenicopteridae (Flamingos), Anhimidae (Screamers), Anatidae (Ducks, Geese and Swans), Gruidae (Cranes), Aramidae (Limpkin), Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules and Coots), Heliornithidae (Finfoots), Eurypygidae (Sunbittern), Jacanidae (Jacanas), Rostratulidae (Painted Snipes), Dromadidae (Crab Plover), Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers), Ibidorhynchidae (Ibisbill), Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets), Burhinidae (Thick$knees), Glareolidae (Coursers and Pratincoles), Charadriidae (Plovers), Scolopacidae (Sandpipers, Snipes and Phalaropes), Pedionomidae (Plains Wanderer), Thinocoridae (Seedsnipes), Laridae (Gulls), Sternidae (Terns) and Rynchopidae (Skimmers).

Only a few wetland birds are excluded by considering entire families in this way. Conversely, the inclusion of whole families results in the waterbird list containing a few non$wetland species such as some coursers and thick$knees. These rather minor anomalies are thought to be outweighed by the convenience of a whole$family approach to the definition of the term 'waterbird' and, in particular, considering the complications that would arise from applying the definition rigidly to every species.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has widened its approach to include more families traditionally regarded as seabirds, as well as certain raptors and passerines. In 2008, the African$Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement has also included some migratory seabirds. Hence, it is possible that a small number of additions will be made in the coming years to the families and species included in waterbird counting programmes.

1.2. Why count waterbirds?
Long$term monitoring of waterbirds by continental$scale censuses provide crucial information which underpins the conservation of waterbirds and their wetland habitats.

The rationale behind waterbird monitoring was summarised eloquently by Matthews (1967) at the time when international coordination of waterbird counting was beginning: '...while man is recklessly unleashing new insults on his environment, background monitoring of populations is essential to detect the threats as they develop and before they become catastrophes apparent to all'.

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