Press Release

World Migratory Bird Day: birds globally threatened by plastic waste

This year’s World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) is celebrated under the theme; Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution. It is celebrated on the 12th October 2019 in Sehithwa facilitated by BirdLife Botswana in partnership with Department of Wildlife and National Parks, collaborating with schools in the Southern part of the Okavango (Lake Ngami region).

The World Migratory Bird Day is celebrated each year to highlight the need for conservation of migratory birds and their habitats. More than 300 registered events in more than 60 countries to mark World Migratory Bird Day 2019 will include bird festivals, education programmes, media events, bird watching trips, presentations, film screenings and a benefit concert to raise funds for international nature conservation.

Two UN wildlife treaties (The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA)) and conservation organizations around the world celebrating the WMBD are calling for urgent action to stop plastic pollution by highlighting its negative effects on migratory birds.

Plastic pollution poses serious health risks to wildlife globally, affecting a wide range of species including whales, turtles, fish and birds.

“One third of global plastic production is non-recyclable and at least eight million tonnes of plastic flows unabated into our oceans and water bodies each year,” Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment. “It ends up in the stomachs of birds, fish, whales, and in our soil and water. The world is choking on plastic and to our birds on which so much life on earth depends.”

Plastic pollution presents a three-fold threat to birds (1) entanglement in fishing gear and other plastic litter is the most visible but affects fewer individuals, (2) Ingestion of plastic waste is more pervasive and can affect large proportions of some species. Birds mistake plastic as food causing them to starve to death as their stomachs fill up with undigestable plastic and (3) Many birds pick up plastic to line their nests mistaking it for leaves, twigs and other natural items, which can injure and trap fragile chicks. Discarded fishing gear is responsible for most entanglements among birds at sea, in rivers, lakes and even on land.

Of 265 bird species recorded entangled in plastic litter, at least 36% species were seabirds, 10% species freshwater birds and 0.5 landbird species. Research further shows that about 40% of seabirds contain ingested plastic. Ingesting plastic can kill them or more likely cause severe injuries, and plastic accumulations can block or damage the digestive tract or give the animal a false sense of satiation, leading to malnutrition and starvation.

The Convention on Migratory Species and the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement work with countries to prevent plastic items from entering the marine and wetland environment. Efforts to phase out single use plastics and to redesign plastic products to make them easier to recycle are underway in many countries.

“There are no easy solutions to the plastic problem. It will require the joint efforts of governments, industry, manufacturers and consumers to tackle the problem. However, as this year’s World Migratory Bird Day underlines – everybody on this planet can be part of the solution and take steps to reduce their use of single-use plastic. Tackling this problem globally will not only be beneficial for us, but also benefit our planet’s wildlife, including millions of migratory birds,” Jacques Trouvilliez, Executive Secretary of the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement. Plastic pollution is a serious and growing threat to migratory birds, which will only further limit their ability to deal with the much larger threat faced by climate change. For details, contact BirdLife Botswana/