500 Most Important Bird Areas in U.S. Named

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Many of the ABC's final 500, which have been plotted on a map with the help of the National Geographic Society, are already prime bird-watching destinations, such as Everglades National Park in Florida and Point Reyes National Seashore in California.

Other sites surprised even the experts who helped create the list, including ornithologist Robert Chipley, director of the IBA program. Even though he started bird-watching when he was 14 years old, Chipley said he never would have guessed that Tennessee's Frozen Head State Park would turn out to be one of the best sites in the country for the cerulean warbler, a bird being considered for the endangered list. "This is a place I had never heard of before," he said.

With Status Comes Hope

Experts hope the IBA list will help focus hard-to-get federal funding on conservation projects where birds are most at risk. "The very fact that you've named a place an IBA gives it status," Chipley said. "You can point to one and say, 'Hey, this place is going down the drain. It's defined as one of the best places in the United States for birds. We can't let that happen.'"

Education is also an important goal: The more people know about birds, the more likely they will want to protect them. And a little bit of attention can go a long way, said Brian Braudis, who manages the Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Manila, Arkansas.

Bald eagles nest in the 11,000-acre refuge. And the hundreds of thousands of migrating waterfowl that stop there every winter include mallards, canvasback ducks, blue-winged and green-winged teals, and wood ducks.

Even though Big Lake was named an IBA last March, people who live near the refuge have long had more interest in hunting birds than conserving them, Braudis said. So, to raise the profile of the area's birds, Braudis arranged a celebration last August. He invited a prominent congressman and five local mayors to speak. He even ordered a cake with icing to match the IBA plaque.

Pretty soon, Braudis said, people took notice. A nonprofit group formed to help protect the refuge's avian residents. Community members began volunteering time and money to build a bluebird trail. "The guy running this is a duck hunter who you never would've called a birder before," Braudis said. Educational tours and interpretive trails are in the works.

Braudis said the new IBA status was an important catalyst that sparked enthusiasm to protect the refuge and its wildlife. "That designation elevated Big Lake," Braudis said. "There's no question about it."

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Nationalgeographic.com Bird-Watching Sites
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From the National Geographic Store
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Mapping Article from National Geographic News

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Additional Information from Related Web Sites:

American Bird Conservancy
Fish and Wildlife Service Bird Web Site
National Audubon Society
Environmental Protection Agency: Bird Conservation

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