Concern about the Salton Sea ecosystem, based on potential impacts of increasing salinity, contaminants, disease outbreaks, and large die-offs of birds, is heightened because of tremendous prior loss and degradation of wetland habitat in western North America. In 1999, we used a variety of survey methods to describe patterns of abundance of birds at the Salton Sea and in adjacent habitats. Our results further documented the great importance of the Salton Sea within the Pacific Flyway to wintering, migratory, and breeding waterbirds. Exclusive of Eared Grebes, we estimated about 187 000 individual waterbirds at the Salton Sea in January, 88 000 in April, 170 000 in August, and 261 000 in November. Additional surveys of Eared Grebes in November and December suggested the total population of all waterbirds was about 434 000 to 583 000 in those months, respectively. We also documented breeding by about 14 000 pairs of colonial waterbirds. Waterbirds were particularly concentrated along the northern, southwestern, southern, and southeastern shorelines and river deltas. By contrast, some species of wading birds (Cattle Egret, White-faced Ibis, Sandhill Crane) and shorebirds (Mountain Plover, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew) were much more numerous in agricultural fields of the Imperial Valley than in wetland habitats at the Sea. Various studies indicate the Salton Sea is of regional or national importance to pelicans and cormorants, wading birds, waterfowl, shorebirds, and gulls and terns. Important taxa are the Eared Grebe, American White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Cattle Egret, White-faced Ibis, Ruddy Duck, Yuma Clapper Rail, Snowy Plover, Mountain Plover, Gull-billed, Caspian, and Black terns, and Black Skimmer. Proposed restoration projects should be carefully assessed to ensure they do not have unintended impacts and are not placed where large numbers of breeding, roosting, or foraging birds concentrate. Similarly, plans to enhance opportunities for recreation or commerce at the Sea should aim to avoid or minimize disturbance to birds. Future research should focus on filling gaps in knowledge needed to effectively conserve birds at the Salton Sea.