Kapellbrücke Luzern Schweiz See Schwäne
Life on the bridges

Home to a variety of creatures

The Chapel Bridge is home to a variety of creatures. Its open wooden structure provides shelter for some pretty unusual species such as the Daubenton’s bat, the Alpine swift and the bridge spider or grey cross spider.

Animal lodgers

You need patience, keen eyes and sharp ears to spot them: discover which animals call the Chapel Bridge their home and who lives in the cracks in the piers.

With gulls and lichen on its roof and algae and lake trout down below in the water, the Chapel Bridge contributes hugely to urban biodiversity.

Bats live on the underside of the bridge deck – largely unnoticed by passers-by – and the Water Tower houses the largest colony of Alpine swifts in the whole of the canton. There are plenty of insects here for all. And if you look over the parapet, you’re likely to spot the odd lake trout or a tufted duck diving.

weisser Bauch unterscheidet Alpensegler von kleineren und häufigeren Mauerseglern
What differentiates the rare Alpine swift from the smaller common swift is its white breast.
Alpensegler mit schmalen, sichelartigen Flügeln und Spannweite bis zu 60 cm.
With its narrow, sickle-shaped wings and wing span of up to 60 centimetres, the Alpine swift is perfectly adapted for flight.

A life in the air

The elaborate aerial displays that Alpine swifts perform on fine summer evenings are legendary. With their typical trilling call, they circle the Water Tower in the early hours of the evening, soaring to ever greater heights and swooping back down again. This is the colony’s roosting ritual. Perfectly adapted to life in the air, Alpine swifts remain faithful to their nest site and to their mate for life. Breeding pairs have nested in the roof space of the Water Tower for decades. Most of the nesting sites are in the upper, wooden part of the tower, directly behind the outer wall.

The birds return from their winter quarters in tropical Africa in April and herald the start of spring in Lucerne. As hunters of flying insects, they can only find enough food here in summer. Whether feeding or sleeping, the animals are able to maintain all their bodily functions during their endurance flight. The Alpine swift is on the “Red List” as a potentially endangered species.

Alpine swift watching

  • During the breeding season from May to early August
  • The early morning and evening hours are best
  • The best viewing place is from Bahnhofstrasse, standing between the Chapel Bridge and the Lake Bridge (Seebrücke)
  • Alpine swifts perform particularly stunning aerial displays on fine summer evenings
  • When the weather turns bad, they can be gone for several days travelling long distances looking for food
The largest...
... colony of Alpine swifts in the whole of Canton Lucerne breeds in the Water Tower.

A cacophony of birds in their winter quarters

Gulls, ducks, swans and grebes: thousands of waterbirds winter every year in the heart of the city of Lucerne. In the summer there are just a few hundred. This fluctuation has to do with waterbirds’ migratory behaviour. Pondweeds and stoneworts thrive in the clear water, which is only a few metres deep, and, together with banks of zebra mussels, are the source of food for the waterbirds.

From October to March, tufted and diving ducks can often be spotted diving for zebra mussels in the Reuss near the Water Tower and resting behind it, where they are protected from the current. There are dozens of swans along the section of the Reuss between the Water Tower and Jesuit Square (Jesuitenplatz), as well as common coots and mallards, while black-headed gulls sit all in a row along the roof of the Chapel Bridge – interrupted here and there by a mew gull or a yellow-legged gull.


Waterbird watching

  • The best time of year is from mid-November to mid-February
  • At any time of day and in any weather conditions
  • Specials sightings are possible even in bad weather
  • You get a good view of this section of the Reuss from the Town Hall Footbridge (Rathaussteg)
  • Tip: Bring a pair of binoculars for a more exciting bird-watching experience


Urban wild birds

They are simply everywhere: it is hard to image city life now without the cooing and trilling of the feral pigeon. They have extreme variations in plumage colour. Many pigeons resemble their ancestor, the rock dove. They are light grey with black wing bars. Others show characteristics of cross-bred domestic pigeons. Pigeons have amazing cognitive abilities and are highly intelligent. But they are not very picky about what they eat or where they build their nest. They have gone from being granivores to omnivores and so find enough food here to breed all year round.

Well-intentioned but counterproductive
Please do not feed the birds
Feeding the flying urban dwellers is not very helpful, and in the long run tends to be harmful to them.

Not dependent on us feeding them

Animal watching is fun and provides an opportunity to gain an insight into their behaviour. However, waterbirds are not dependent on us feeding them. On the contrary: feeding – however well-intentioned – encourages the transmission of diseases. Rats and pigeons also eat food left for the birds and then, as a consequence, multiply uncontrollably.

A harmful disservice

When they feed pigeons, animal lovers are doing the objects of their affection a harmful disservice. Feeding them allows them to reproduce more prolifically and they end up living closer together. Diseases and parasites can spread more easily, which has a negative impact on the health of the animals. The city’s “Stadttauben Luzern” project calls on the public to refrain from feeding feral pigeons. The aim is to have fewer but healthier pigeons living in the city of Lucerne.

Web artists

The bridge spider or grey cross spider is nocturnal and stays in its hiding place during the day. What are visible, however, are their large, spiral, wheel-shaped webs. It is a common and widespread spider species that tends to live on bridges near water.

They are very sociable. The bridge spider likes to build its web next to light sources, such as the lights on the Chapel Bridge, which help to attract nocturnal insects. Read about who is responsible for clearing away the webs and why it has to be done.

The biodiversity on the historic wooden bridges does not please everyone

Caution: corrosive

Bird or spider droppings on the artworks, stone or wood can damage their surface. And if there is a fire, spiders’ webs can act as an accelerant.

Life is flourishing under the bridges

There is also a lot of life under the wooden bridges, but it goes largely unnoticed by passers-by. It takes a keen pair of eyes to spot fish and bats.

Perch, whitefish, trout, pike and many more species

A specimen of any of the 35 fish species that are found in Lake Lucerne could swim under the Chapel Bridge at any time. Some of these species are endangered or even threatened with extinction. Like the common nase, whose population has declined drastically in recent decades.

Another highly endangered species is the native lake trout. They do not return to their natal waters to reproduce, as is usually the case, but swim downstream into the Reuss to spawn – a local peculiarity. If you have a trained eye, lake trout can be spotted breeding in November and December.

Fish watching

  • From spring to late autumn
  • During daylight hours and in any weather conditions
  • The Chapel Bridge is a good vantage point for spotting common barbels searching for food at the bottom of the Reuss
  • In winter, when the water temperature is cold, the fish are barely active

Hunters of the night

During the day they are at rest in their hiding place under the Chapel Bridge. In the evening they fly over the surface of the Reuss hunting. Despite the noise of feet pounding overhead, Daubenton’s bats raise their young here summer in, summer out. Bats use the same roosts over and over again, where they sleep upside down. Despite its small size, the Daubenton’s bat, also known as the “water bat”, has a good appetite – it can eat up to 500 mosquitoes an hour.

It finds its prey using ultrasonic echolocation. In other words, it continuously emits signals that are inaudible to humans. The signals hit potential prey and return as echoes. The Daubenton’s bat, like all bat species, is protected by law and considered endangered.gefährdet. Find out here who is responsible for their protection and why this is important.

Wasserfledermaus Myotis daubentonii lebt unter Kapellbrücke Luzern

Daubenton’s bat watching

  • From May to early September
  • The best time is when it is warm with no wind or rain
  • As dusk falls, the Daubenton’s bats fly out from their roost under the bridge
  • The Rathausquai and the square in front of St Peter’s Chapel both offer good vantage points from which to watch them. Keep an eye out for them on the parapet of the Chapel Bridge and the surface of the water
  • On the Chapel Bridge, if you listen very carefully you can hear the bats’ social calls before they leave the roost
These people also provide services for Lucerne’s wooden bridges
Fledermäuse Kapellbrücke Luzern
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