Waterbird and Habitat Monitoring

IWMM recognizes that successful waterbird conservation requires integrated objectives, management, and monitoring across local, regional, and flyway scales. Moreover, targeted monitoring must inform and support the decisions made at these scales. Therefore, an essential element of IWMM is a monitoring component that enables managers to:

  • Standardize waterbird counts and habitat monitoring
  • Rapidly assess local habitat conditions and quantify use of wetlands by waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds during non-breeding periods
  • Aggregate waterbird and habitat data collected at the local scale for descriptive summary and/or analyses at larger scales
  • Simultaneously track management actions in order to evaluate whether management objectives are being met at sites being managed
  • Adaptively manage resources and adjust management actions as more information about waterbird responses to specific actions becomes available, and/or to address emerging threats

IWMM chose to focus monitoring efforts on waterbirds during the non-breeding period because information during this period was limited but crucial for the development of a full life-cycle conservation approach. The waterbird guilds selected – waders, shorebirds, and waterfowl – were chosen because many National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) lands were purchased to provide habitat for these species. Additionally, species in these guilds are commonly managed for on wetlands. Currently, our monitoring protocol employs survey techniques that involve whole-wetland visual assessments of habitat conditions and counts of waterbirds conducted from the wetland perimeter. Our waterbird species list includes a wide array of waterbirds including loons, grebes, cormorants, pelicans, gulls, terns, skimmers, rails, gallinules, and coots (see Common names and 4-letter codes).

In January 2015, the National Inventory and Monitoring Branch of the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) approved the IWMM monitoring protocol as a National Protocol Framework for the Inventory and Monitoring of Nonbreeding Waterbirds and their Habitats. The purpose of the National Protocol Framework is to guide use of monitoring by cooperators within the NWRS. This framework enables development of site-specific protocols that are compliant with the NWRS updated inventory and monitoring policy. For partners with similar management objectives and information needs, IWMM encourages use of the framework to develop site-specific guidance for their waterbird and habitat condition surveys.

Go to our Contact page to find more information about using the IWMM protocol framework.