Impressive spring bird count at Oostvaardersplassen

Groenpootruiter aan de waterkant
Foto: Henk Hupkes - Jos Scholten

Forester Hans-Erik Kuypers tells

Every spring, a large number of migratory birds use the Oostvaardersplassen as a stop-over to regain their strength after an exhausting first stage of their migration north. At the bird count of 24 April, a respectable 76 different bird species and a total of 16,258 individual birds were spotted. Bear in mind that these are just the species and numbers in the grassy part of the count areas, which is just a small part of the whole area. I called one of the birdwatchers to share my enthusiasm and asked him which bird truly excited him.

Foto: Henk Hupkes - Jos Scholten

Ring Ouzel

Without hesitation he mentioned the ring ouzel. Hmm, a black bird with a white breast… perhaps not on par with kingfishers and nightingales as far as colours and singing are concerned but nonetheless quite special. ‘You don’t see them around here every year’. We have never been able to confirm ring ouzels brooding in the Netherlands and they still have quite a way to fly to reach their breeding grounds in Scandinavia in May.


I myself was very impressed by the number of ruffs, who can now be found mostly in the wet grasslands in the Waterlanden. Magnificent birds! Unfortunately, it’s still too early to see them perform their mating ritual here. To experience that in the Netherlands, you need to visit national park Lauwersmeer. The males are slowly moulting into their spring dress (breeding plumage) and are getting ready to engage their rivals in full regalia. The ruff has become quite rare as a breeding bird in the Netherlands with only 15 to 30 breeding pairs between 2013 and 2015.

Spotted Redshank and Common Greenshank

I can’t help but think of medieval jousting tournaments when it comes to these birds, with ruffs as additional participants. I have no idea where their name comes from. Could it be because of the diamond-shaped pattens of their feathers?

You can see them wading on their long legs, in the area that is not quite water but not land anymore either, looking for snails, worms and leeches (which can be centimetres long).

The spotted redshank is actually black when in breeding plumage and doesn’t breed in the Netherlands. It’s a real long-distance migratory bird. Every year, it flies from the sub-Sahara to the far north of the (sub)-Arctic and back again.

The common greenshank gets part of its name from its legs that are green during mating season, and it follows roughly the same flight patterns as the redshank. The bird is known for its hurried walk when it tries to catch small fishes or other prey. This shank doesn’t breed in the Netherlands either.

Foto: Henk Hupkes - Jos Scholten

Northern Wheatear

The birdwatchers counted 31 northern wheatears on 24 April. Unfortunately, the number of wheatears that breed in dunes and moors is dwindling. In the spring, when vegetation is still short, wheatears migrate to the Oostvaardersplassen and live off bountiful insects. Wheatears are endangered and they deserve extra attention. Records from organisations for bird protection show that the wheatear is one of the most quickly disappearing bird species in Europe, which is why it is very special to spot one.

If you would like to see these birds for yourself and enjoy this rich bird life, you can visit the Driehoek, the part of the Oostvaardersplassen that is freely accessible to the public. It‘s one of the hotspots, with open waters and dense reed borders. You’ll have a pretty good chance of spotting bluethroats or stonechats there.

From the ‘Wigbels Eiland’ observation point, you can enjoy large numbers of birds foraging in the wet grasslands and pools of water stretching before you. Let’s see how many species you can detect!


Overview of the census on April 24