Little owls return to northwest Switzerland after near 40-year absence

Little owls return to northwest Switzerland after near 40-year absence

For the first time in nearly 40 years, a pair of little owls have made their home in northwest Switzerland, scientists have confirmed. The discovery is the result of a 23-year-long programme designed to return the almost-extinct species to all of Switzerland.

Two little owls spotted in northwest Switzerland

In a statement given to Blick, BirdLife Switzerland announced that a couple of little owls have successfully built a nest near Basel and reared young, the first breeding pair to be spotted in northwest Switzerland in nearly 40 years. Workers rushed to confirm the sighting after they were first seen on a wildlife camera.

"This represents one of the rare bright spots in the protection of biodiversity, the state of which is very worrying in Switzerland," noted Martin Schuck, deputy managing director of BirdLife. He told Blick that the exact location of these adorable critters will be kept a close secret, as little owls react sensitively to disturbances and should be allowed to develop as “undisturbed as possible.”

Little owls almost became extinct in Switzerland

The discovery follows a 23-year campaign to spread little owls to all Swiss cities and cantons. Despite being of "least concern" as a species worldwide, the little owl almost became extinct in Switzerland by the turn of the millennium, with only 50 to 60 pairs sighted in 2000. However, instead of joining other famous birds like the Woodchat Shrike and Curlew in disappearing from Swiss skies, the new campaign has seen the species brought back from the brink.

BirdLife said that the find is the result of “large-scale” habitat improvements made across the country - part of a Europe-wide effort that has seen the owl’s population in France and Germany quadruple since 2000. Today, BirdLife can confirm that there are around 150 breeding pairs in Switzerland, with most in Ticino, Geneva, the Ajoie and the Grosses Moos region.

Despite its petite size, the little owl (Athene noctua) has been used as a symbol of power across Europe, most notably being associated with the goddess Athena and the city-state of Athens - today, the little owl is on the Greek one-euro coin. With success in the region around Basel, BirdLife will continue its attempts to spread the species across all of Switzerland. Canton Zurich, St. Gallen and Thurgau are the next likely candidates for repopulation.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

Read more



Leave a comment