Administered by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and developed in line with the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) is a program devoted to the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Central Asia, the Canadian Archipelago and Greenland. This calls for the cooperation of governmental authorities in these regions, as well as the wider conservation community, to develop conservation principles that can be applied successfully to the management of migratory waterbirds along all their migratory routes.
The 255 AEWA-monitored species cross international borders during their annual migration and need suitable habitats as stop-over and breeding sites. Cooperation between countries along their routes is essential to ensure the survival of many of these species, which include grebes, divers, pelicans, herons, cormorants, storks, ibises, spoonbills, rails, cranes, gulls terns, auks, frigate birds and more.
As of June 1, 2013, seventy-one countries and the European Union are involved in the AEWA program, cooperating with one another in the interest of the birds. Representatives from these member countries meet every two to three years to review progress made and plan the way ahead. The first meeting was held in November 1999 in Cape Town, South Africa, with subsequent meetings being held in September 2002 in Bonn, Germany; in October 2005 in Dakar, Senegal; September 2008 in Antananarivo, Madagascar; and the most recent being held in May 2012 in La Rochelle, France.
Countries that have joined AEWA are legally bound to carry out core activities as outlined in the organizations Action Plan. The current action plan is valid until 2015 and includes legal measures that protect the habitat, eggs and birds of the identified migratory species, with certain exceptions if the bird population is deemed sustainable or if it poses a danger to crops, water and fisheries. The Action Plan also covers strategies for conserving specific species, emergency measures for species deemed in danger, and methods of re-establishing populations in their traditional range. Habitat conservation is covered in detail, as is the establishment and control of eco-tourism, as well as the education of personnel responsible for implementation of the Action Plan and members of the public.
Birding enthusiasts, who gather to greet the masses of migratory birds that have successfully completed their annual, often treacherous journey, can do so in the knowledge that organizations such as the AEWA are playing a vital role in the success of this marvel of nature.
The beautiful Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is the bird that people most commonly picture when discussing a swan. This striking, white bird with its slender neck, black eyes and dark orange bill has become a bird of legend, with many European and Asian fairytales and bedtime stories featuring this magnificent creature. The Mute Swan is found naturally in the more temperate parts of Europe and western Asia and, while it is not migratory as such, certain inland populations are forced to move to the coast in winter when their waterways and lakes may freeze over. Because these birds are considered to be so beautiful, some have been taken to other countries where attempts have been made to keep them at parks and ponds. However, the birds inevitably escape and as a result there are currently a number of feral bird populations in the US which have become naturalised over time. In some places, however, they compete with local bird species for food and space resulting in them being labelled as ‘pests’. Nevertheless, they fall under the AEWA conservation agreement.
The Mute Swan is an impressively large bird with an average body length of between 145-160 cm. Their wingspan may measure 208-238 cm in length and the males are normally quite a bit larger than the females. These proportions and the resulting weight make the Mute Swan one of the heaviest flying birds in the world and the heaviest water bird ever recorded. Both the cobs (males) and pens (females) are similar in appearance with pure white bodies, necks and heads. There is a small black area around their eye which joins up with the knob on their bills. The males have a larger knob than the females. Their bills are orange-red in color and their necks have an unmistakable S-like curve which adds greatly to their allure. Young Mute Swans are called ‘cygnets’ and they are normally a dull white or grey with a dull-colored bill.
Mute Swans usually build their nests on large mounds which they create in shallow water. These mounds may be either in the middle or near the edge of a lake. The birds typically use the same nest each year and they may have to restore or rebuild it at the beginning of breeding season. The Mute Swan is monogamous and both sexes share in building and caring for the nest and for incubating and raising their young. Mute Swans normally feed on water plants, insects and snails and an adult may eat as much as 4 kg of vegetation in one day. These birds are generally found in large colonies and can become quite tame though they will always act defensively if you approach their nest and it is not recommendable for anyone to do so.