When did the Osprey last breed in Switzerland?

Last Osprey nest in Switzerland
Last known Osprey eyrie in Switzerland, photographed 16 April 1915 at Ellikon am Rhine ZH in a Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris. Reproduced from Stemmler (1932).

Ospreys in Switzerland were recorded as breeding for the last time along the Rhine River in 1914, with the last observation of a territorial male observed in 1915 or possibly even in 1919. Since this time Ospreys are only seen in Switzerland during migration periods in the spring and fall, with occasional visits during the summer.

In his book Die Adler der Schweiz (1932), Carl Stemmler has provided invaluable information on the last breeding Ospreys in Switzerland. He recounts how, on April 15, 1911, a young man named Merk brought him a dead female Osprey that he had wounded with buckshot (and afterwards tried finishing her off with a Swiss Army knife, and ended up strangling her with a rope)! He had been planning on taking the bird to the taxidermist to get it stuffed. After some discussion, he agreed to sell the bird to Stemmler as well as show him the nest where he had killed the bird, which was located in Ellikon am Rhein (canton of Zurich). The lad explained how he and a friend had stolen the eggs at night, because they knew that if they had waited, three other lads were getting ready to steal the eggs the following morning. Stemmler bought the bird from him for 15 francs and the three eggs for 5 francs. The young man told him that he killed an Osprey each year to sell to the local taxidermist. After this encounter, Stemmler recounted that Merk then emigrated to Texas! Continue reading When did the Osprey last breed in Switzerland?

Migration

Osprey and flamingo Banc d'Arguin by Wendy Strahm

Most European Ospreys nest in the north and winter in Africa south of the Sahara (apart from a few Mediterranean populations which are more or less sedentary). A few birds stop before crossing the Mediterranean and winter in Spain or even in the south-west of France, but this is unusual. In Switzerland Osprey migration occurs over a fairly wide period, and small numbers of birds can be seen mainly from mid-March to the end of May in the spring and from mid-August to the end of October in the autumn. Continue reading Migration

Why did the Osprey disappear as a breeding species in Switzerland?

The Osprey once bred throughout Europe where there was suitable aquatic habitat, but they disappeared from a large part of western, central and southern Europe. For the most part only populations in northern Europe, specifically in Fennoscandia but also some small populations in Eastern Germany and Poland, remained. Continue reading Why did the Osprey disappear as a breeding species in Switzerland?

Why won’t the Ospreys return to breed in western Switzerland by themselves?

Balbuzard par Pascal RapinThe reason that it is very unlikely (with nature you can never say impossible, but we can say very unlikely) that the Osprey will  start breeding in western Switzerland again without help is due to “philopatry”. Philopatry is the tendency of an individual to stay or to return to the place where they were born in order to breed. Some species, like the Osprey, have a very strong philopatry, which results in a very limited ability to disperse to new areas. This means that when a population disappears, it is exceedingly unlikely that individuals who were not born in this area will recolonise it, even if suitable habitat exists. Continue reading Why won’t the Ospreys return to breed in western Switzerland by themselves?

The Osprey in Switzerland