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Sempach Ornithological Institute: the voice of birds for 100 years

Updated at 31 Mar 2024 8:50 am

What once began as a ringing center in the house of an enthusiastic ornithologist in Sempach LU has developed into an important mouthpiece for birds over the past 100 years. The Swiss Ornithological Institute Sempach tirelessly pursues the vision of understanding the native bird world and preserving its diversity for future generations.

Exactly 100 years to the day after the founding meeting, a ceremony with invited guests will be held at the Swiss Ornithological Institute Sempach on April 6. The President of the Swiss Confederation, Viola Amherd, will also take the opportunity to pay tribute to the success story of the ornithological station and the impressive journey from a one-man operation run by volunteers to an internationally recognized institution.

The emergence of science and advancing industrialization motivated many people at the time to protect birds, says Livio Rey, communications employee at the ornithological station, in an interview with the Keystone-SDA news agency. Issues from back then are still relevant today.

"Apart from the methods, the work of the ornithological station itself hasn't changed that much," says Rey. The passionate ornithologist Alfred Schifferli, who provided a room in his home for the newly founded ornithological station in 1924 and became its first director, was a visionary. The vision of the ornithological station is still the same today: to understand the native bird world and preserve its diversity for future generations.

Reference library with ornithological publications

The coordination of bird ringing was initially one of the main tasks of the Ornithological Institute. In addition, the ornithological station built up a reference library of ornithological publications for study purposes in order to collect knowledge about birds and make it accessible to everyone.

With the growing financial support of bird enthusiasts from all over the country, the ornithological station was able to take on more tasks. And so the premises provided by the Sempach Corporation in the town hall from 1946 soon became too small, so that the ornithological station was given a newly built building on the lakeshore in 1955. At this time, the ornithological station was transferred to a foundation.

More than half a century later, the ornithological station opened its new office building and finally the visitor center in 2015. Today, the center receives around 40,000 visitors a year, and the free information service takes several thousand emails and phone calls every year.

Great support

According to Rey, the Ornithological Institute, as a foundation for ornithology and bird conservation, always enjoys great support from the public as well as from administrations and politicians. "We are taken seriously as a partner," says Rey.

He cites the use of geolocators, which have revolutionized knowledge about bird migration in recent years, as milestones in the history of the ornithological station. As these only require a small, lightweight battery, they make it possible to track the migration behavior of small birds. Previously, only GPS transmitters were used to record the movements of large birds such as eagles or storks.

The monitoring of bird populations is also still very important in order to show how the birds are doing. "The bird world reflects how we treat the environment," says Rey. He also emphasizes that the Red List of Swiss breeding birds is very long. In order to reduce this, habitats need to be upgraded. "Unfortunately, many have been destroyed over the past hundred years," says Rey. The Ornithological Institute therefore launched the framework project "Upswing for the bird world" and, together with partners, has already created 450 hectares of valuable natural areas.

The Ornithological Institute sees a great need for action for the welfare of birds, particularly in wetlands and agricultural areas. By creating wildflower strips, planting hedges and improving wetlands, breeding sites can be created for birds.

Recently, the Ornithological Institute has also been active on an international level. It is coordinating the African-Eurasian Migratory Landbird Action Plan (AEMLAP) to ensure the long-term survival of these migratory birds in their breeding and wintering grounds and during migration. Rey: "We need to open our eyes - for the good of the birds."


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