Migratory birds: developing beneficial management practices


The purpose of this guide is to support the conservation of birds by encouraging the development of Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs) by industries or stakeholders whose activities may affect migratory birds. The guide:

  • outlines a process for preparing a coherent and complete BMP
  • provides guidance on the key points a BMP should contain, and
  • explains the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders, other interested parties, and Environment and Climate Change Canada

While this guide is aimed primarily at a technical audience, the principles and elements suggested for developing BMPs are relevant for any individuals who engage in activities that may affect migratory birds. Simpler BMPs may be appropriate for less complex activities or those with a lower risk of affecting migratory birds.

In all cases, it is recommended that people assess the risks, and where possible, develop and implement appropriate preventive and mitigation measures - which can include BMPs - to minimize the risk of incidental take and to help maintain sustainable populations of migratory birds.

Conservation context for birds in Canada

The federal government is directly responsible for protecting and conserving the vast majority of bird species encountered in Canada, specifically those protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 (MBCA) and Migratory Birds Regulations (MBR). Most species of birds not protected by the MBCA are covered under provincial and territorial wildlife acts. Some species are also protected by federal (Species at Risk Act), provincial or territorial species at risk legislation.

Federal, provincial, territorial and Aboriginal governments are key partners in the conservation of migratory birds. The Canadian Council of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) provides a discussion forum for bird conservation and management issues by government authorities and interested stakeholders.

Beyond the basic requirement to comply with existing legislation, there are many potential opportunities to influence the conservation of birds, especially through habitat management. For this reason, Bird Conservation Region (BCR) Strategies provide conservation objectives, describe threats, and recommend conservation actions for all priority birds in Canada. BCR strategies are a source of information for coordinating conservation measures for birds in Canada, which can help inform the development of Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs).

What is a Beneficial Management Practice?

While avoidance guidelines can help individuals and companies plan their activities in order to comply with existing prohibitions, another recommended approach for industries seeking to minimize the risk of impacts to migratory birds is to develop and implement BMPs that are specific to their operations. BMPs can also be very useful in the broader context of long-term conservation of bird populations and their habitat.

A BMP is any kind of existing or new practice that will avoid or reduce risks to migratory birds or their habitats. Companies, associations and individuals can develop and adopt BMPs on a voluntary basis. A BMP should be economically desirable, socially acceptable, and practical to apply in a given sector.

BMPs describe the best ways of doing things in particular situations and at specific time periods, and provide ideal models of environmental performance. The aim of BMPs is to eliminate or minimize negative consequences for one or more environmental factors related to the conservation of migratory birds or their habitats.

Environment and Climate Change Canada does not have the authority to prescribe, recognize or approve specific BMPs. Using BMPs does not necessarily mean compliance with legislation, but rather, serves to reduce risk. Interested parties develop and adopt BMPs by choice. They must weigh their decisions regarding how to conduct activities to meet their own objectives while balancing responsibilities towards migratory birds. All individuals and companies are required to comply with the prohibitions under the federal migratory bird legislation. Please refer to the Beneficial Management Practices website for more details on Environment and Climate Change Canada’s role in the BMP development process.

What functions do BMPs have?

BMPs benefit birds and their habitats, and support migratory bird and habitat conservation on working landscapes.

BMPs benefit interested companies, associations or individuals through increased likelihood of regulatory compliance and through demonstrated good environmental stewardship by contributions to migratory bird conservation.

BMPs can link on-the-ground action to conservation priorities contained in BCR Strategies and other conservation plans. BMPs also help achieve values important to Canadians because they contribute to fulfilling the purpose of the MBCA : the protection and conservation of migratory birds-as populations and individuals-and their nests.

Guiding principles for the development and application of BMPs

  1. A BMP should be designed to manage for healthy bird populations while minimizing consequences for individual birds. Bird conservation is the goal of BMPs.
  2. A BMP should use the best available science.
  3. A BMP should take a precautionary approach: that is, greater caution should be exercised when information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate.
  4. BMPs should use an adaptive management approach. Their performance should be regularly assessed with respect to desired outcomes for migratory bird conservation, and should be revised accordingly.

How to prepare a BMP document

  • A BMP needs to clearly identify the bird conservation issues to be addressed, and should carefully identify and evaluate the specific practices that would deal with those issues.
  • When developing a BMP, avoid making assumptions about issues and their solutions. Individuals and companies are advised to seek professional advice and investigate relevant local or species-specific information.
  • Keep in mind that issues can and most probably will change over time, so BMPs will need to be kept up to date.

Background documentation

It will be useful to have on hand some key documents relevant to the preparation of BMPs.

  • The guide for developing BMPs (this guide)
  • All available BCR strategies relevant to your operations
  • Any federal Species at Risk recovery and/or management plans and action plans relevant to your operations
  • The relevant Environment and Climate Change Canada Avoidance Guidelines for avoiding impacts on migratory birds, nests and eggs

Other key documents include any existing BMPs that may be applicable in whole or in part in your sector or region. Additional relevant background information can include documentation on habitat conservation priorities and guidelines for influencing land protection and management decisions. Examples include protected areas plans, strategies and plans from the Canadian Habitat Joint Ventures, and the guide How Much Habitat is Enough.

Elements of a BMP

A comprehensive BMP document should include the following key elements:


This section should:

  • summarize the bird conservation issue that the BMP will address
  • summarize existing BMPs that are relevant for your region, industry, or operation
  • provide references to the existing BMPs where possible, and
  • provide a short analysis of why and how those BMPs are relevant for the development of your BMP


This section should describe the full context for the application of the BMP including, but not necessarily limited to, the following:

  1. To what sector and to what operation within that sector does the BMP apply?
  2. What is the nature of activity or sector to which the BMP applies, including the geographic scope? For example, is this an individual farming operation? Is it the entire right-of-way maintenance program for a large, national pipeline company? Describing specific aspects of the business is helpful here.

Proposed BMP(s)

This section should provide a detailed description of the entire context for the implementation of the BMP. This step involves documenting in detail a description of all standard procedures, methods and practices associated with the BMP. The description should include:

  1. A general description of the BMP
    1. Explain the type of issues addressed by the BMP and the approach(es) taken to address each of them.
  2. A sequential description and duration of each step required to complete the work or project
    1. Describe each component, step or process in detail in the BMP with clear, concise language and with diagrams as necessary. Be sure to note suppliers of specialized equipment. If specific training for persons implementing the BMP is required, this should be explained fully or attached as an appendix (for example, specific instructions for staff operating on the ground).
    2. Provide sufficient detail so that a person who is unfamiliar with the industry or project and associated BMP would clearly understand the nature of the project or work, the various activities, and the steps associated with it.
    3. Document all actions, even those typically taken for granted and any constraints that dictate why any exceptions might be required for any part of the BMP.
    4. Describe the BMP in precise language, avoiding jargon that others outside your industry would have difficulty understanding. Avoid terms such as ‘where practical’, ‘where appropriate’, and ‘where possible’. Instead, describe conditions where certain actions are deemed impractical, inappropriate or not possible.
  3. Variations or adjustments that must be made depending on practical, site-specific conditions. Include a description of such conditions when variance is necessary or desirable.

Conservation linkage

  • This section should describe the specific threats, issues, geographic area(s), and conservation objectives being addressed for each species or group of species.
  • If the BMP addresses species covered in BCR strategies, species at risk recovery strategies or management plans, it should also identify which of those documents are relevant.
  • Clearly articulate any uncertainty in both this section and in the BMP description itself.
Key points this section should contain:
  1. References back to specific threats, objectives and recommended actions in the relevant BCR strategies or species at risk recovery/management plans where the BMP applies.
  2. Clear descriptions of how the BMP relates to or addresses the recommended action. Articulate clearly the expected short-term and long-term outcomes of the BMP for migratory birds.
    Note: BCR strategies and species at risk recovery and management plans are not as specific as an implementation plan or action plan. Environment and Climate Change Canada therefore expects anyone drafting a BMP to seek clarification when necessary. When certainty cannot be reached on a desired topic, the resulting uncertainty should be clearly articulated in both this section and in the BMP description itself.
  3. The name of each species being addressed by each beneficial practice described in the BMP document, where relevant, or the list of habitats or situations addressed by each practice intended to benefit all birds.
  4. A description of the BMP, organized into the following sub-sections: (1) the nature of the BMP; (2) its scale of applicability; (3) its temporal applicability (time frame); and (4) its focus. See below for examples in each of these sub-sections. A comprehensive BMP would incorporate the following cases within each sub-section.
    1. Nature of BMP. Does your BMP encompass:
      1. Avoidance (avoiding the killing of adults, eggs, or young and the destruction of nests)
      2. Mitigation (minimizing effects of the activity directly on birds, nests, eggs or young or their ecological requirements such as habitat or food)
      3. Other actions to address residual impacts (i.e. not managed by the avoidance and mitigation activities above), such as conservation allowances (Operational Framework for Use of Conservation Allowances), or
      4. A combination of the above categories (specify)
    2. Scale of applicability. Does your BMP apply at a:
      1. Species-specific level (individual species of migratory birds, including their nests and/or eggs)
      2. Site-specific level (such as breeding or wintering sites, foraging areas and migratory stopover sites)
      3. Broad scale of the landscape or ecosystem, such as coniferous forest, BCR, marine biogeographic unit, agricultural habitat, or
      4. A combination of the above categories (specify)
    3. Temporal applicability. Does your BMP apply during:
      1. Breeding season
      2. Fall migration
      3. Non-breeding season (wintering)
      4. Spring migration, or
      5. A combination of the above categories (specify)
    4. Focus. Does your BMP:
      1. Deal directly with protection of one or more specific migratory bird species (or guilds) and/or management of habitat of these species in particular
      2. Deal directly with protection and/or management of habitat of migratory birds in general but with no species in particular (for example, timing of operation with respect to breeding periods, site-related BMP that could include more than one habitat), or
      3. Does not target migratory birds or their habitats but deals with actions that benefit them

Science support and third-party review

In this section, describe how the BMP was developed, the scientific research (if any) or traditional and/or local ecological knowledge the BMP was based on, the track record of the BMP (new, never tried, or well-established practice), and the process used to write the BMP and have it reviewed.

Key points this section should contain:
  1. A thorough description of the information base used to establish the BMP, including complete references for any scientific or other literature.
  2. A description of how and when the BMP has been used before (or if it is new and untried) and its past success, broken down into the following categories:
    1. Ease of implementation: is the description of the proposed practice clear enough and applicable to your situation? Is it implementable in the field? Are there technical aspects limiting its implementation?
    2. Efficiency of the practice: did it provide the intended immediate protection or management results, i.e. avoiding or minimizing the negative impact envisioned? How could the positive impacts of the practice be improved?
    3. Past implementation success: did the practice resolve the initial issue with satisfying environmental and business outcomes? Was it sufficient to avoid or minimize all negative impacts of operations on migratory birds? Did the practice contribute to a net benefit for migratory birds? Were there residual impacts on birds, their nests or eggs?
  3. A list or description of all individuals and organizations involved in the development of the BMP and their respective roles. A timeline may be included.
  4. A description of the review process for the BMP. For example, indicate whether the BMP was reviewed by a third party such as a certification organization, other government department (federal, provincial or territorial), Aboriginal organization, or environmental non-governmental organization.
    Note: Review of its social acceptability alongside scientific, technical and economic factors will help to contribute to the success of a BMP and its durability.

Monitoring, evaluation and reporting plan

Describe the plan for determining the success of all aspects of the BMP, including all tools and approaches for monitoring and reporting on the effectiveness of the BMP. Effectiveness monitoring covers everything from whether the BMP was used and whether it worked as designed, to whether it had the desired ecological outcome and meets business and legal requirements.

Key points this section should contain:
  1. A description of how the specific success of the application of the BMP will be tracked and who will be responsible for tracking it. Did the person implementing the BMP follow the instructions correctly? This is usually assessed by those implementing the BMP and might be part of reporting requirements if the BMP is part of a third-party approval or license process. For example, the correct size of holes was used in bird boxes erected as supplemental nest sites and the boxes were put at the right height above the ground.
  2. A description of how the site-specific outcome of the BMP will be tracked and who is responsible for tracking it. Did the BMP achieve what it was supposed to? This aspect is often assessed by those implementing the BMP, but may be done under the auspices of research with partners where appropriate. For example, birds used x% of the nest boxes annually.
    1. Consider setting quantitative indicators to clarify expected results.
    2. Review and periodically update targets as knowledge and environmental conditions change.
    3. Set interim objectives to report progress if BMP outcomes are long term.
  3. A description of proposed timelines for each of the two effectiveness monitoring levels (application and outcome).
    1. A BMP must be monitored if it is to be sustainable over time. Monitoring should ensure (at a minimum) the BMP’s appropriate application and implementation (point 1, above) and also that it is having the intended positive outcomes (point 2, above).
    2. Companies using BMPs should monitor their own implementation of the BMP to ensure their investment is resulting in the desired outcome, and should require that their subcontractors also implement and monitor them.
    3. BMPs should be implemented within a context of adaptive management. In an adaptive management approach, the results of effectiveness monitoring would be used to refine and guide the application of future versions of BMPs.

For more information

If you have any comments or questions related to the development of Beneficial Management Practices, please contact the Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service office in your region.

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