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Migratory birds in the Wadden Sea

The Wadden Sea is Denmark’s international national park, because the area is vitally important for 12-15 million migratory birds on the East Atlantic Flyway. Therefore, there are unique bird watching experiences for visitors to the Wadden Sea area. 

The Wadden Sea is an important resting and foraging area for migratory birds. In particular, large flocks of wading birds and geese can be seen in the sky, on the meadows and on the tidal flat, when they stop over at the Wadden Sea before continuing their journey along the East Atlantic Flyway. There are several reasons why the migratory birds leave the warmer southern climates and fly north, for instance to the Arctic tundra, to breed. On the tundra, there is greater distance between members of the same species, which reduces the risk of spreading disease. Furthermore, severe winters at the breeding grounds bring down the number of birds of prey and other predators. Conditions at the Wadden Sea meet many of the essential needs of migratory birds. Therefore, they return to the area every year, providing unique, breath-taking experiences for visitors and residents alike.

The Wadden Sea and migratory birds

Across the world, some of the most valuable natural sites are tidal areas, where the shifting tides allow the sun to warm up the seabed when exposed at low tide. Through the nutritious and often warm mud, the algae extract additional energy, which stimulates massive plant growth. Algae form the basis for an enormous production of benthic animals, such as mussels, worms and snails, which make the Wadden Sea an invaluable pantry for birds on the East Atlantic Flyway, one of the world’s most important migratory routes, connecting areas from tropical Africa to the Arctic.

Migration distance

Migration can be short, medium or long-distance.

 

The shape of the birds reveasl the migration distance. For example, birds flying the longest distances are torpedo-shaped. Mallards and lapwings are short-distance migratory birds. They breed in Denmark, but if necessary, they migrate to the coastal areas of Germany and the Netherlands for the winter. Common eider and oystercatcher are medium-distance migrants. They breed in Northern Europe and migrate to Western Europe. Finally, the group of long-distance migrants includes birds breeding in the Arctic, such as the red knot, the black-tailed godwit and the ruddy turnstone, which all migrate to tropical Africa for the winter.

Travelling with oxygen

On their daily flights, birds usually stay close to the coast, but over longer distances migratory birds travel at high altitudes. Small birds, such as the snow bunting, fly at heights of one kilometre above the ground, whereas the dunlin, the black-tailed godwit and the lapwing travel at altitudes of four to six kilometres. Larger birds, such as geese, cranes and storks, can fly at altitudes as high as six to nine kilometres above the surface of the earth. Birds flying at such high altitudes have to use their oxygen better than other species, such as humans. Therefore, the birds bring their own oxygen. Some species of birds have up to nine air sacs that connect to the lungs, but they can also use their hollow bones to store oxygen.

New plumage

Migratory birds not only use the Wadden Sea as a pantry. In the spring and the autumn, millions of feathers can be found on the salt meadow. Feathers wear out after travelling halfway around the globe, and the birds need new plumage to continue their journey. 

The birds have different moulting strategies. Wading birds moult continuously, whereas the common eider is unable to fly for up to five weeks while it replaces its flight feathers.

How do the birds find their way?

Migratory birds have an innate ability to navigate. A sign of this is that young migratory birds are often left alone only a few days after hatching. Therefore, they migrate without any form of training or assistance from their parents. The ability of birds to navigate is far from fully explained. However, the most recent research shows that an area in the bird’s brain contains neurons which are able to register the direction and strength of the earth's magnetic field. In this way, the birds can probably adjust their flight path if they lose their way. However, orientation is based on a combination of many factors, and the birds also use the sun, the stars, landmarks and their sense of smell for direction.

Experience enormous swarms

It is hard to grasp the multitude of 12-15 million migratory birds. Some species come to the Wadden Sea in flocks of only a couple of hundred migratory birds, whereas others visit the area in swarms of millions. Enormous flocks of thousands of birds glittering in the sun like silver are not an uncommon sight during the migration seasons. You too can experience this if you go to the Wadden Sea in the period from March to May or from August to October and join one of the many tours arranged by the tour operators in the area.


Guidet tur

Oplev dette på en guidet tur med en af nationalparkens dygtige turarrangører.

Guided tourGo on a guided tour with one of the National Park’s experienced tour operators.

Geführte TourWir empfehlen eine geführte Tour mit einem der erfahrenen Führer des Nationalparks.

Varde

NaturKulturVarde

Roustvej 111, 6800 Varde

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    +45 75 22 22 50

Fanø

Strandskaden

Dagmarsvej 10, 6720 Fanø

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    +45 30 20 25 43

Ribe

Vadehavscentret

Okholmvej 5, Vester Vedsted, 6760 Ribe

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    +45 75 44 61 61

Mandø

Mandø Event

Midtvej 7, Mandø, 6760 Ribe

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    +45 23 25 53 75

Bredebro

Vadehavssmedjen

Bunti 18, 6261 Bredebro

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    +45 29 72 74 26

Rømø

Naturcenter Tønnisgård

Havnebyvej 30, 6792 Rømø

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    +45 74 75 52 57

Møgeltønder

Sort Safari

Slotsgaden 19, 6270 Tønder

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    +45 73 72 64 00

Oksbøl

Naturstyrelsen

Ålholtvej 1, 6840 Oksbøl

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    +45 72 54 30 00


Besøgscentre

Hvis du vil vide mere, så besøg et af nationalparkens spændende besøgscentre.

VisitIf you want to learn more, visit one of the National Park’s exciting exhibition venues.

BesuchWenn Sie mehr erfahren möchten, sollten Sie eines der interessanten Informationszentren des Nationalparks aufsuchen.

Blåvand

Blåvand Naturcenter

Fyrvej 81, 6857 Blåvand

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    tel:+45 75 22 22 50

Marbæk

Myrthue

Myrtuevej 39, 6710 Esbjerg V

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    +45 76 16 81 00

Esbjerg

Fiskeri- og Søfartsmuseet

Tarphagevej 2 , 6710 Esbjerg V

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    +45 76 12 20 00

Ribe

Vadehavscentret

Okholmvej 5, Vester Vedsted, 6760 Ribe

undefined  www.vadehavscentret.dk
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    +45 75 44 61 61

Rømø

Naturcenter Tønnisgård

Havnebyvej 30, 6792 Rømø

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    +45 74 75 52 57