Speciality Birds of the Netherlands

The main speciality birds of the Netherlands, as seen through the eyes of a British birder, would probably be as follows (in systematic order).

  1. Great White Egret. Popped up almost from nowhere in the early nineties, when a few pairs started breeding in Flevoland. Paradoxically it has since become easiest to find in winter, with over 100 birds present in the country in winter.
  2. Purple Heron. A scarce colonial breeding bird in wetland areas. Summer visitor.
  3. White Stork. Having become almost extinct in the mid-1980's, a re-introduction programme has resulted in it becoming moderately common in some areas. Mainly a summer visitor, but a few now over-winter.
  4. Spoonbill. Fast becoming a common sight in the west of the country and the Wadden islands from March to September.
  5. Geese. The Netherlands is one of the main overwintering areas for numerous species of geese, especially Greylag, Barnacle, White-fronted, Bean, Pink-footed and Brent, but also small numbers of Lesser White-fronted and Red-breasted geese. Several species of geese have also started to breed in the Netherlands, especially in the Hellegatsplein area of the Delta. Although some people have claimed that these are the offspring of escaped birds, it seems to be generally accepted that they are genuinely wild birds adapting to new opportunities.
  6. Gargeney. Fairly scarce summer visitor, but appreciably less scarce than in Britain.
  7. Red-crested Pochard. A scarce breeding bird, found on reed-fringed fresh water.
  8. Marsh Harrier. A common bird, to be found at practically any large reed-bed, except in winter, when it is restricted to the south-west of the country. Also sometimes over arable land, and can be seen on passage anywhere.
  9. Goshawk. Much commoner in the Netherlands than in the UK, but surprisingly elusive for such a large bird. In the 1980s it was found almost exclusively in the south-eastern half of the country, but it is now spreading north-westwards, and can be encountered almost anywhere.
  10. Honey Buzzard. Also decidedly commoner in the Netherlands than in the UK. Best chances are on the Veluwe in late spring or early summer.
  11. Black-winged Stilt. Has recently started breeding in the Netherlands, with scattered pairs in the west of the country.
  12. Avocet. A common bird of the Delta and Waddenzee, and may be found almost anywhere in suitable habitat in the west and north.
  13. Kentish Plover. A scarce breeding bird, mainly in the Delta. (From May onwards, beware confusion with young (Little) Ringed Plovers.)
  14. Spotted Redshank. A common bird of the Delta and Waddenzee in May and in July-September, often seen in its striking breeding plumage. Smaller numbers in other months.
  15. Black-tailed Godwit. Not one that many British birders will need for their life lists, but breeding godwits are a major feature of Dutch grassland. Somewhere around half the world's population breeds here. Mainly a summer visitor.
  16. Black Tern. A rather patchily distributed breeding species. One reliable spot is around the famous windmills of Kinderdijk, south-east of Rotterdam. Flocks of hundreds, even thousands, of Black Terns can be found in the area of Wieringen (south of Texel) in late summer.
  17. Mediterranean Gull. This has become very much commoner in recent years, with about 1000 pairs, mostly in the Delta. Almost guaranteed in spring in the Ooltgensplaat/Hellegatsplein area. It is worth knowing the call, as birds flying over often draw attention to themselves in this way.
  18. Black Woodpecker. A frustratingly difficult bird to find. Strictly confined to large areas of mature woodland. The best chance is on the Veluwe or Salland in March/April, when its calls draw attention to it. It doesn't drum very often, but when it does the drumming is very loud.
  19. Bluethroat. A local bird, most common in the Delta, Flevoland, the Biesbosch and a handful of other spots. A bird that usually has to be found first by song, but once found you can often get a good view of it if you're prepared to hang around for a few minutes. The most distinctive feature of the song is reminiscent of a free-wheeling bicycle. An early arrival, with some arriving in March; late April and early May is the period when it is easiest to find.
  20. Black Redstart. A fairly common summer visitor. May be found on buildings almost anywhere, including modern industrial estates, but commoner inland than near the coast. As with so many passerines, it is most easily found if you know the song.
  21. . Bearded Tit. Reasonably common in large reed-beds. Perhaps most easily found in late summer / early autumn, when family parties make their way noisily around the reeds.
  22. Marsh Warbler. A fairly common breeding bird through most of the country. Most easily found in late May. However (like many warblers) it is very hard to find, and harder to identify, if you don't know the song.
  23. Great Reed Warbler. A very distinctive warbler, both in size and song, but a bird which has sadly declined in numbers. Best chances are around the Reeuwijkse Plassen, near Gouda.
  24. Savi's Warbler. A rather scarce but widespread bird of large reed-beds. Most common in Friesland, Flevoland, and the wetland areas north of Utrecht.
  25. Icterine Warbler. Found in small numbers almost throughout the country, though becoming scarcer in the south. Favours areas of young open woodland, with trees around three or four metres high. This is a late arrival - most don't come in until late May.
  26. Crested Tit. A common bird in coniferous woodland of the centre and the south-eastern half of the country, though it does seem to be decling. Fairly easy to find at any time except summer: listen out for an excited trilling.
  27. Short-toed Treecreeper. Any treecreepers encountered in the Netherlands are almost sure to be the Short-toed Treecreeper, Certhia brachydactyla, which is a common bird. The species found in Britain, Certhia familiaris, which is also found in upland areas of central Europe, is in the Netherlands a rare breeder in the extreme south-eastern corner of the country (near Vaals) and a rare autumn migrant along the coast.
  28. Golden Oriole. Fairly easy to hear in the southern half of the country in the second half of May and in June, but frustratingly difficult to see. Favours large groups of tall poplar trees.

Sadly, birds like Little Bittern, Night Heron, Crested Lark and Ortolan Bunting have virtually disappeared, while Black Grouse are down to a single tiny group. Bittern is still present in rather better numbers, but has also declined badly. Recent colonisers include Penduline Tit, Scarlet Rosefinch and Fan-tailed Warbler, but the first two seem to be disappearing again and the third is still rare and elusive. White-tailed eagle is a scarce but increasing winter visitor, which bred recently for the first time; while the first breeding pair of Cranes for the Netherlands also successfully reared a single young.

The Little Egret has not become anything like as common in the Netherlands as it has in southern England, but can be found here and there.