Birds are fascinating creatures. Our feathered neighbours are sources of delight and admiration to us as we listen to birdsong in spring, watch their acrobatic feats of flight, or ponder the extraordinary performance of migrant birds. But the coexistence of humans and birds is not always easy. Knowledge of their distribution is the foundation for measures and provides guidance on how to protect them.
In 2013–2016, twenty years after the last atlas, the Swiss Ornithological Institute in Sempach again surveyed the populations and distribution of all breeding bird species throughout the country. Thanks to the dedication of more than 2000 volunteer collaborators, a wealth of data was collected that describes the state of our native birdlife in detail.
Comparing the new results with the 1993–1996 breeding bird atlas allows for a com-prehensive description of changes in bird communities over the past 20 years. Birds are a reliable measure of the quality of the environment, especially the state of land-scapes and habitats. They are important indicators that respond with sensitivity to both natural environmental changes and those caused by humans, allowing us to recognise and analyse positive and negative developments and use this knowledge to design conservation measures.
For example, detailed information on bird distribution reveals gaps in our country's ecological infrastructure, showing us where improvements are necessary and where urgent action is needed. But it also highlights the success of the conservation efforts for Bearded Vulture and Middle Spotted Woodpecker, among others. The results are a challenge and an invitation for us to create an environment that accommodates the needs of breeding birds and other wildlife.
Based on the collected data, the new breeding bird atlas focusses on several im-portant topics: «Agriculture has a responsibility for bird conservation», for example, discusses the current trends, shortcomings and measures regarding the conservation of birds in farmland habitats. «Switzerland needs large wetlands with plenty of water» draws our attention to the challenges posed by the disappearance of wetland habitats. And «Problematic coexistence – sharing our buildings with birds» illustrates how close birds are to our own living spaces and highlights the important role that settlements play in the promotion of biodiversity. These fields of action are of great significance and are increasingly being addressed by the Federal Office for the Environment FOEN in the context of the Swiss Biodiversity Strategy.
For many people, birdwatching is probably the most common and most intense form of contact with wildlife. Many of us take pleasure in the return of the swallows in spring or in early-morning birdsong. It is our duty to preserve these experiences for future generations. Bird communities and biodiversity in general deserve our atten-tion and support, because they contribute to our quality of life and are part of Switzerland's rich natural heritage.
Director of the Federal Office for the Environment FOEN