SWIFT BIRDING TRAIL - Old town of Locarno


Didactic nature trail about urban biodiversity equipped with information panels and accompanying brochures
in 4 languages (it, fr, de, en) available at the Tourism Organisation Lago Maggiore e Valli.​​

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San Antonio Church
Pallid Swift colony

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The Pallid Swift is a Mediterranean species that reaches its northern distribution limit in Locarno. First observations along the Lago Maggiore were made around 1960. The native Pallid Swift is a barely known species. The small colony at St Antonio’s Church, discovered in 1987, is situated in the northern lower half of the church’s façade as well as in the bell tower. The colony size fluctuates between 12 and 30 breeding pairs. Other small nearby breeding colonies are located in Cannobio and Domodossola, bigger ones in Milan and Turin.
In 1990 the colony was saved thanks to the Commune of Locarno, the Canton and the Confederation. The nesting holes were made smaller to limit competition with domestic Pigeons.

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Where does the Pallid Swift breed

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The Church’s facade is occupied by both the Pallid Swift and the Common Swift. Regular observations since ​​​​1987 of the Pallid Swift colony, of the species community and of interaction with Common Swifts showed ​​​​no evidence of defensive or aggressive behaviour between the two species. In contrast to the Common Swift, ​​​​the Pallid Swift breeds in the lower half of the building. ​​​​At first glance it is difficult to distinguish between the two bird species. The Pallid Swift differs in its pale ​​​​brown plumage, its slightly longer wings with darker wing-edges compared to the rest of the body, and its ​​​​slightly larger head and less forked tail. Its call is deeper, shorter and less shrill. ​​​​The Pallid Swift arrives in April together with the Common Swift, but, unlike the Common Swift, it may ​​​​remain until November and rear a second brood. ​​​​

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San Francesco Church
Common Swift colony

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Common Swifts are designed for prolonged flight. They spend almost their entire lives in the air, where they ​​​​​​​​prey on insects, drink, mate and sleep, coming to land only when they are breeding. They herald early ​​​​​​​​summer with striking rapid flight games around the breeding colony and shrill cries of «sriii». In a flight dive, ​​​​​​​​they can reach over 200 km/h, and soar to altitudes of 3600 m to sleep. The Common Swift is readily ​​​​​​​​distinguishable from Swallows by the larger size, long sickle-shaped wings and short forked tail. ​​​​​​​​Its sober dark brown plumage cab appears black as the bird flies rapidly across the sky. The breeding season ​​​​​​​​is from April to July, and stretches from North Africa to northern Europe. It overwinters in Central and South ​​​​​​​​Africa. ​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​

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Municipal Tower
Alpine Swift colony

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With a wingspan of up to 60 cm, the Alpine Swift is the largest of the European swift species. The breeding ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​area extends from the Mediterranean to southwest Germany. Its plumage is brownish grey with a dark pectoral ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​band that crosses the white throat and white belly. Its calls are different from other swift species and are ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​composed of a series of long trills «ti-ti-ti-ti». It can reach an age of nearly 30 years and remains faithful to ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​its nest site throughout its life. The colony in the Bell Tower of Locarno was discovered in 2008, and saved ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​thanks to the Commune of Locarno and the support of the Canton and different associations. As a result of ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​the massive destruction of nesting sites due to renovations, our three species of Swifts (Alpine Swift, ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Common Swift and Pallid Swift) are national priority species that require specific conservation measures. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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