Migratory birds in the Wadden Sea

The Wadden Sea is of crucial importance for 12-15 million migratory birds on the East Atlantic migration route. The area acts as a pit stop for the birds that rest and feed here. It gives visitors the opportunity to have some unique birding experiences in the national park.

Flock of birds at sunset - The Wadden Sea is visited by millions of birds every year.

The Wadden Sea and migratory birds

Tidal areas like the Wadden Sea are among the world's most valuable natural areas because the pulsating tides allow the sun to heat the exposed seabed at low tide. This means that the algae get extra energy from the nutrient-rich mud on the seabed, and the algae are the basis for a gigantic production of benthic animals such as mussels, worms and snails - the favourite food of migratory birds. This makes the Wadden Sea an invaluable pantry for birds on the East Atlantic Flyway, one of the world's most important routes for migratory birds. The birds stop in the Wadden Sea to replenish their stores for their onward journey, while some choose to stay in the area over the winter, where they can continue to enjoy the great takeaway.

How many is 12 million, really?

12-15 million migratory birds is a lot - a lot. The number is so large that it can be hard to imagine exactly how many birds there are. Of course, these millions of birds don't arrive all at once. For some species, only a few hundred migrating individuals arrive in the area, while for others, more than a million conspecifics visit the Wadden Sea at once. Some species are larger than others. For example, the world's entire population of pink-footed geese is in the Wadden Sea during the migration period - around 7,000 birds in total. They arrive in the Wadden Sea from Svalbard in September-October and spend the winter here until they return to Svalbard at the end of May to breed.

Plan your trip

The diverse birdlife can be seen both on your own or by booking a guided tour organised by one of the national park's partners. Especially during the migration periods from March to May and again from August to October, the Wadden Sea is teeming with birdlife. If you want to go out on your own, Mandø is one of the places in the Wadden Sea that harbours the most species of both migratory and breeding birds - and even some of the rarest, such as the Little Tern and the White-breasted Pratincole. Mandø also hosts some of the largest populations of barnacle geese in Denmark. Rømø also offers great opportunities for birdwatching: in spring and autumn, thousands of wading birds wade along the Rømø dam, and the car parks on the dam are a great place to stop. Tøndermarsken also offers unique birding experiences, for example from the old sea dyke or the 4-kilometre stretch behind Det Fremskudte Dige - here you can see impressive flocks of birds all year round, such as Icelandic black grouse, white-breasted dabbling ducks, pintails and gadwalls, to name but a few.

Icelandic grayling looking for food.

Read more about the Wadden Sea's migratory birds

Migratory birds look for food on the water.

How to be the best guest when birdwatching

  • Move slowly and be patient without making unnecessary noise. If you are travelling in a group, stay together and don't spread out.
  • Use the area's existing observation facilities and stay on the many paths and roads that show the area and nature at its best
  • Pay attention to stress behaviour, signs of restlessness and warning calls from the birds. Retreat if you experience them.
  • Don't use acoustic aids to attract birds and don't use flash when filming and photographing.
  • Pick up any rubbish you find and take it with you - even if it's not yours.
Great pike strut around in reeds.
Huge flock of birds darken the sky.

Fotos: Tandrup Naturfoto, Bo L Christiansen, Torben Andersen, John Frikke