Home Background How it all began
How it all began

Photo: Catherine Lehmann (UNEP/AEWA)

World Migratory Bird Day was initiated by the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) Secretariat in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) in 2006.

Originally, the idea of designating a day for migratory birds arose in the United States in 1993, when the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology initiated celebrations of the ‘International Migratory Bird Day' (IMBD), which encourages bird festivals and education programmes across the United States and other parts of the Americas. Although this day continues to be successfully celebrated in the western hemisphere, something similar was missing for the rest of the world.


On the occasion of its 10th anniversary in 2005, the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (UNEP/AEWA) - a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) administered environmental treaty, initiated the Migratory Waterbird Days (MWD) which were held in Africa, Europe and parts of Asia. As this event was well received in the African-Eurasian region, the idea arose to broaden the scope into a commemorative day which celebrates the phenomenon of migration and all migrating birds, including waterbirds on a global scale.

Hence, the very first World Migratory Bird Day was launched by AEWA and CMS on the weekend of 8-9 April 2006 on Ms. Kuki Gallmann’s famous wildlife reserve ‘Ole Ari Nyiro’ in Laikipia, Kenya. The central launching event called WINGS was inspired by the phenomenon of bird migration and was attended by a number of international personalities from the worlds of art, business and conservation. (see the video on the right)


Since then, World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) has been celebrated in an increasing number of countries and has steadily grown in popularity each year. While the annual WMBD campaigns are prepared and coordinated centrally by the AEWA and CMS Secretariats, national authorities and NGOs worldwide, in particular BirdLife International and its partners, help to encourage individuals and organisations around the world to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day and to incorporate each year's theme into their awareness-raising programmes and festivals. 

Through the help of thousands of committed individuals, organisations and government authorities - World Migratory Bird Day has turned into a truly global commemorative event, which helps turn the world's attention to the wonders of bird migration and the need for their conservation in a concentrated and global scale each year.

WMBD 2006

 The first World migratory Bird Day took place on 8-9 April, 2006. At the time, migratory birds were receiving very negative media coverage as a result of them being falsely believed to be the main cause for the spread of Avian Influenza (H5N1) around the world. So the idea arose to use the first World Migratory Bird Day to counter some of the negative and often unbalanced publicity migratory birds were receiving at the peak of the Avian Influenza discussion. For this reason the theme of the first World Migratory Bird Day in 2006 became: “Migratory birds need our support now!”. The centre of the campaign was a launching event called WINGS which took place on the edge of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya and was hosted by Ms. Kuki Gallman, a famous writer and conservationist. Altogether, 68 other WMBD related events took place in all corners of the world to support the launch and the very first WMBD campaign.

WMBD 2007

 In 2007, World Migratory Bird Day was celebrated in more than 58 countries and with more than 100 different events all across the planet on 12-13 May. The central theme “Migratory birds in a changing climate” helped to focus the world’s attention on the plight migratory birds are facing due to global warming. WMBD activities highlighted the effects that increasing temperatures, altered rainfall and vacillating weather conditions have on migratory birds.

WMBD 2008

 Under the theme “Migratory Birds – Ambassadors for Biodiversity”, World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) was celebrated for the third time on 10-11 May 2008. Over 136 activities took place in 59 countries around the world to mark World Migratory Bird Day in 2008 and the events helped spread the idea of migratory birds as messengers for the conservation of biodiversity worldwide.

WMBD 2009

 On 9-10 May 2009 World Migratory Bird Day was celebrated in over 50 countries around the world. Under the main theme “Barriers to migration”, 130 registered events took place. These events helped to raise awareness on man-made barriers and demonstrated that obstacles like wind turbines, power lines and tall buildings pose a threat to migratory birds.