In 2003, the Swiss Ornithological Institute and the Swiss Association for the Protection of Birds SVS/BirdLife Switzerland started the"Swiss species recovery programme for birds", in close cooperation with the Federal Office for the Environment FOEN. The Swiss Ornithological Institute and the Swiss Association for the Protection of Birds SVS/BirdLife Switzerland have identified 50 breeding bird species urgently in need of recovery programmes in Switzerland (so called "priority species for recovery programmes", Keller et al. 2010). Further, the factors threatening populations of these species and the measures needed to mitigate the threats have been determined (Spaar et al. 2012). The goal of the programme is to maintain or to restore viable populations of those species. Since the start of the programme, various recovery projects have been initiated in collaboration with different partners. For six species, national action plans have been worked out and will be put into practice in the next years. This requires the collaboration of various stakeholders.

Principles of the Swiss species recovery programme for birds

The goals of all conservation efforts are to maintain and restore biodiversity. To achieve these goals, we focus on three levels:

  1. Habitats: Ideally, the entire landscape should be suitable as habitat for plants and animals. Set-aside areas or ecological principles in forestry applied over all of Switzerland may help to approach this ideal situation.
  2. Sites: The overall effort depicted under 1) is unlikely to secure the long-term persistence of some species, which need protected areas such as nature or forest reserves. In some of these reserves, natural dynamic is the focal process. In others, specific habitat management in favour of target species is the main conservation aim.
  3. Species: For 50 bird species in Switzerland, the above mentioned measures will not secure persistence in the long run. Those species need specific recovery programmes to complement the first two instruments. The "Swiss species recovery programme for birds" refers to these 50 species and is being implemented on two levels:

The recovery programme nationwide:

The main activity at the national level consists of informing and motivating the main protagonists and advisory services of the cantonal authorities. National action plans and various aids (fact sheets, education programmes, etc.) to implement conservation measures are being worked out. The national coordination centre (see below) enhances collaboration between partners. Recovery projects for species persisting only in few regions can be of national importance (e.g. Eurasian scops owl, lapwing). For the nationwide promotion of priority species, six goals and associated conservation strategies have been put together here.

Exemplary recovery and research projects:

In exemplary recovery projects at the regional scale, we show the possibilities and limits of conservation projects and measures. In this way, we aim at stimulating other protagonists to conduct similar projects. Such projects are conducted for common redstart, woodlark, little ringed plover, hazel grouse and European nightjar . For other species, we conduct research projects to close knowledge gaps, which hinder efficient recovery projects.

Coordination of the “Swiss species recovery programme for birds”

Drafting and implementing species recovery programmes and recovery plans, respectively, along with monitoring of the performance of measures taken is carried out by various institutions in collaboration with cantonal authorities of nature conservation and species experts. To accomplish these complex tasks, the stakeholders are supported by a national coordination centre, which is affiliated to the Swiss Ornithological Institute and to the Swiss Association for the Protection of Birds SVS/BirdLife Switzerland to equal parts. A steering committee consisting of delegates from the Federal Office for the Environment FOEN, the Swiss Ornithological Institute, the Swiss Association for the Protection of Birds SVS/BirdLife Switzerland and cantonal authorities of wildlife management and nature conservation lays down the framework programme. Periodical meetings serve to exchange experiences and to advance the programme.

The coordinators of the “Swiss species recovery programme for birds” are Dr Reto Spaar, representing the Swiss Ornithological Institute, and Dr Raffael Ayé, standing for the Association for the Protection of Birds SVS/BirdLife Switzerland.

The priority bird species

In a systematic, multilevel evaluation process, the Swiss Ornithological Institute and the Swiss Association for the Protection of Birds SVS/BirdLife Switzerland have identified 50 bird species, which need specific recovery programmes. To conduct effective recovery programmes, major threats for the populations must be known. Depending on the current knowledge, research projects to close the gaps hindering effective recovery programmes are conducted.

As an example, causes for the dramatic decline of the wood warbler are unknown, as severe habitat changes are not evident. The strong losses of wood warblers in forests close to settlements suggest that increasing recreational activities and high densities of pets (cats, dogs) may pose severe problems for the ground-nesting wood warbler. High numbers of foxes may exacerbate nest predation pressure. However, changes in forest management may still be relevant. The relative importance of these factors for wood warbler populations are currently under investigation.

In addition to impacts on the breeding grounds, migratory species are likely affected by factors acting outside the breeding season (i.e. at stop-over sites and in wintering areas). In these species, key factors and mechanisms of threats have to be identified – even when this often represents a very difficult task without guarantee of success.

On the other hand, ecological requirements are sufficiently known for some species, as for example in capercaillie, so that conservation measures can be taken.

Working with broad support

The promotion of threatened and endangered bird species in Switzerland has already seen some successful years and is continuously supported by many stakeholders. Nevertheless, false expectations must not be raised. The disappearance of some species likely cannot be prevented. Recovery programmes cannot be worked out and implemented for all 50 priority species at once. A species-specific assessment of the urgency and chance for success of various conservation measures serves as decision support to guide actions.

Reto Spaar and Raffael Ayé
National coordination centre of the “Swiss species recovery programme for birds”


Keller, V., R. Ayé, W. Müller, R. Spaar & N. Zbinden (2010):
Die prioritären Vogelarten der Schweiz: Revision 2010. Ornithol. Beob. 107: 265–285.
Spaar, R., R. Ayé, U. N. Zbinden & U. Rehsteiner (2012):
Elemente für Artenförderungsprogramme Vögel Schweiz – Update 2011. Schweizerische Vogelwarte und Schweizer Vogelschutz SVS/BirdLife Schweiz, Sempach und Zürich.