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A late Swift in Switzerland, Apus apus or Apus pallidus?

On 26 November 2002 I was walking in the Teppes de Verbois reserve about 10 km south of Geneva (Switzerland) alongside the river Rhone. It was 16:30 hours in the afternoon and weather conditions were light rain with a temperature of 9 °C. Wind was light and from a northerly direction. At this late hour light conditions were not good but I was suddenly surprised to see a Swift flying around just above my head and feeding on the numerous insects flying around on this rather mild evening. Initially I took it for a Common Swift (Apus apus) but something seemed a bit wrong with it, in particular I felt that the wing tips seemed very slightly blunter than those of A. apus and also the general silhouette seemed slightly different. It is about 7 years since I have seen any certain A. pallidus so I cannot be absolutely certain about the species. The size was right for A. apus or A. pallidus but was certainly not A. melba. There was only one individual and it flew several times to within about 20 metres of where I was standing as it hunted. After watching the bird for about ten minutes it seemed to move off in a northerly direction towards the Verbois dam on the Rhone river. I went to the dam but I could not relocate the bird.

A. apus or A. pallidus? Pallid Swift is extremely rare in Switzerland outside its only known breeding territory in Locarno (Canton of Ticino). The 2001 report of the Swiss Rarities Committee mentions only one certain sighting north of the Alps back in 1995 and one sighting in the Canton of Valais in 2002 where one was seen and photographed on 19 May 2002 (Maumary & Duperrex (2002)).

It has been suggested that some Pallid Swifts remain in their breeding territories in the Iberian Peninsula until November (Cuadrado 1985). It is conceivable that the very bad weather in November might have driven some Pallid Swifts north of their usual range. It is unusual to see Common Swift here after October and the local birds depart at the end of July. I wonder just how often very late Swifts reported as Common, are in fact Pallid?


Cuadrado A. et al. (1985): Hibernage du Martinet pāle Apus pallidus dans le sud de l'Espagne. Alauda 53: 306-307

Maumary, L. & Duperrex, H. (2002): 11th report of the Swiss Rarities Committee. Nos Oiseaux 49: 239


© APUSlife 2002, No. 2804

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