Spending some time in Amsterdam? Birdwatching might not be the first thing you think of. But look a little closer, and you’ll find that Amsterdam hosts a surprising amount of winged wildlife in its city limits – and sometimes where you least expect it. The Dutch capital is a paradise for bird lovers, and there are plenty of opportunities for keen birders to see a wide variety of species. Below you’ll find a list of different birds in Amsterdam – from the standard pigeons and seagulls to some truly unexpected creatures.
Read on to find out more about nature in Amsterdam, and the amazing animals that share the city and its surroundings with their human counterparts.
If you haven’t been to Amsterdam before, there might be a bit of a surprise waiting for you in the local parks. You’ll hear some wings flapping, trees rustling, and some weird shrieking before you see them: a whole flock of colorful green parakeets flying overhead. While obviously not native to the area, these birds are now an Amsterdam staple and really do add some color to the city (despite technically being a destructive pest).
Where do the parrots in Amsterdam come from? There are plenty of urban legends explaining their origin story; from a zoo-based breakout that seems straight out of a Pixar film to Jimi Hendrix himself somehow deciding to enhance the local ecosystem by releasing these birds in Amsterdam, for reasons perhaps only known to those who attended Woodstock.
The likeliest answer (sorry Jimi) is that these were imported for private collectors, and ended up either accidentally escaping or being let go because the owner couldn’t care for them anymore. This would also explain why there was never an incident report of a zoo missing its birds – if you’d just lost some valuable illegal birds you definitely weren’t meant to have in your house, the police probably wouldn’t be your first port of call. Despite the odds, the parakeets thrived, and are now some of the most iconic Amsterdam birds around.
Herons are traditionally found near small rivers or in rural areas far removed from the urban hustle and bustle of a city like Amsterdam. However, recent decades have seen an increase in the number of herons spotted around the Dutch capital. As of 2017, there were around 5,000 herons in the Amsterdam region; 800 of which were breeding pairs. In other words, there’s a fairly stable population.
Some residents have actually grown quite friendly with the birds. In what might be the ultimate story relating to birds in Amsterdam, a heron was seen frequently returning to the same spot where his human friend fed him some tasty chicken every day until she, unfortunately, passed away. The bird returned to the abandoned house daily – waiting for her to come back. It’s like a Dutch version of Hachiko the dog, except with a lot more feathers and talons.
If you’re looking for a real photo opportunity, check out the Albert Cuyp market at the start and end of the day – if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to attract a bunch of herons, it’s the scent of fresh (and not-so-fresh) fish ready to be sold on the market, or snatched up by a cheeky Amsterdam bird when the vendor has their back turned.
When you think of storks, what comes to mind? Is it their uniquely reliable baby delivery service? Their big ol’ beak? Your 7th-grade biology teacher, Mr. Stork?
Residents around the Westerpark and Vondelpark areas of Amsterdam might imagine their local park instead. These Amsterdam birds make for a majestic and unexpected sight around the city’s green spaces.
Visit around springtime, and you’ll get to see the storks feed and raise their own offspring – which begs the question, do storks think that a magical human delivers their little baby storklings?
These graceful creatures tend to float around the UNESCO-listed canal ring of Amsterdam, making the waterways even more scenic than they already are. Whether you’re taking a stroll along the water or exploring the city on a cruise, swans are some of the most impressive birds in Amsterdam. You’ll find them floating around most canals in the city – even the ones in the Red Light District.
If you’re lucky enough to spot one of these elegant creatures floating by, make sure you keep your distance – especially if there are babies involved. They can go from ‘gentle ballet-like creature’ to ‘vicious feathered warlord’ very quickly, as one man found out when trying to save a cygnet in need.
Looking for more Amsterdam bird-lore? You have absolutely clicked on the right article. As recently as 2019, local police officers were called to settle a vicious territorial dispute between two families… of swans. Seven hours, three ambulances, and two police vehicles (including a boat) later, the war was over – with only minor injuries.
Eurasian Magpie (Ekster)
Known by locals as an ‘Ekster’, these highly intelligent birds can be found cawing around Amsterdam’s many parks – and helping the slightly more dim-witted seagulls get into everyone’s trash. Wondering how smart a bird can really be? They’re actually intelligent enough to recognize their own mirror image, which even many of us humans are finding increasingly difficult after the first half of 2020.
Combine that with the fact that they look like they’re wearing elegant tuxedos, these are some of the best birds in Amsterdam to spend a couple of minutes watching. Curious by nature, they learn by closely and meticulously inspecting new things – and actually stealing these new things away to safety if they think they’re under threat. This is where the popular urban myth on magpies ‘stealing’ shiny things comes from; they’re actually just trying to further their education.
If you hear a unique and slightly shrill melodious sound while walking along the canals of Amsterdam in the evening, there’s a pretty good chance it’s one of these guys! The humble coot is a ubiquitous sight along the city’s waterways, and it’s one of the Amsterdam birds you’re guaranteed to see even if you’re only spending an hour or two in the city.
Much like the slightly more regal-looking heron, coots have firmly established themselves as residents of Amsterdam in their own right. Local biologist Remco Daalder (who wrote an excellent book on a specific colony of these birds in Amsterdam) has gone as far as describing coots as ‘the most human of all birds’. There are plenty of articles praising this humble bird for its true Amsterdammer values, like being moody, noisy, and aggressive.
Uhh, direct, straight-forward, and authentic. We meant direct, straight-forward, and authentic.
Also known in English as a swamp hen, or swamp chicken, this is basically a slightly more colorful blue version of the coot. We will not dignify this bird with a more comprehensive description.
Even if you live in Amsterdam, you might not have expected this one to be on the list. While they generally avoid areas with a lot of people (and are very elusive birds by nature), they’ve been spotted in plenty of places around Amsterdam over the years.
If you’re lucky, you might see them around the Amsterdamse Bos area, Westelijk Havengebied, Gaasperpark, Amstelpark, and more. During wintertime, they can sometimes even be seen in the city center – but don’t hold your breath.
Your best bet is to try the northern part of Amsterdam, which is home to an ever-growing number of breeding pairs. Due to increasingly warm winters, the bird is becoming more comfortable in the Dutch climate, and is finding it easier and easier to make its way into the official list of common Amsterdam birds. Thanks, global warming.
Great Tit (Koolmees)
Dear reader, at this point there was a golden opportunity to use some less-than-savory keywords. It would have driven a lot of Google-based traffic to this page about certain things to see in Amsterdam. Please note that we chose the high road here.
The great tit has been voted as the most frequently spotted backyard bird in Amsterdam, which is great news for anyone who likes these colourful little visitors in their garden. While you can see this species in plenty of places around the world, there is one unique thing about these birds in Amsterdam: their song.
A study by the University of Leiden shows that the birds actually adjust their song to the environment in which they live – in this case, the bustling symphony of squeaking bicycles, honking cars, trains, and general noise found on the streets of Amsterdam. Evidently, great tits have two different songs: one for the forest, and one for urban environments. Why not go to both and see if you can hear the difference?
Common Swift (Gierzwaluw)
These birds are among the many exotic avian visitors to Amsterdam. Studies between 2013 and 2017 indicate that there are around 2,600 breeding pairs that return to the city every year to nest in the crevices and crannies of Amsterdam’s old buildings. The city’s centuries-old homes, churches, and warehouses provide the perfect place to build a safe and secluded nest.
While these birds can fly up to 120 km/h, there’s one thing they can’t escape from: the perils of home renovation. Newer buildings provide less space for the birds to nest in and around, making it increasingly difficult for them to safely find a home in Amsterdam. This realization prompted local residents to form an action group, specifically created to keep Amsterdam a great place for the common swift to live – an initiative that has support from the local authorities.
One of the most scenic colonies can be found in a historic old church building in De Pijp. If you arrive at the right time of year (between May and July), you might be able to see the birds flocking in a mass-migration event.
A cool and gross fact about swifts is that they build their nests primarily out of their own saliva. Use this information wisely.
Egyptian Geese (Nijlgans)
Half duck, half goose, 100% reminder of the fact that birds used to be dinosaurs. Egyptian geese have made the parks and waterways of Amsterdam their home in recent years. Thankfully, they’re not nearly as aggressive as Canadian geese (it’s still not recommended to try your luck, though).
Similar to their parakeet counterparts, Egyptian geese were brought to the Netherlands as an ornamental species – in other words, people thought they looked super interesting and wanted to collect them. Eventually they used their powerful goose brains to escape, and have since taken over a significant part of the nation as their own territory.
Interesting fact about Egyptian geese? Their history goes a long way back – they even have their own ancient hieroglyph. Going even further than that, the Egyptian earth god Geb was often depicted in the form of a goose, his sacred animal of choice. He was believed to have laid a cosmic egg (hence his nickname ‘The Great Cackler’) and was considered the parent of more famous modern gods such as Osiris, Isis, and Seth. Think about that next time an Egyptian goose looks at you funny.
The screeching, the unchecked aggression, the constant looming threat of them stealing your fries. It’s seagulls. There are multiple different types of these birds in Amsterdam, and it’s interesting to see the differences between them. If we had to pick a favorite seagull, it might be the black-headed gull. This is a slightly smaller and less aggressive variety, and it actually looks pretty cute for a seagull. 10/10, would voluntarily give it some hard-earned fries.
Peregrine Falcon (Slechtvalk)
Also known as the fastest bird in the world – much to the consternation of the common swift – this falcon can often be seen around the Schiphol Airport area, presumably challenging the planes to races. They can also venture into the city sometimes, and in recent years a particularly inventive couple made their nest in one of Amsterdam’s most beautiful buildings: the Rijksmuseum.
In a display of extreme ingratitude, the very same couple later left the Rijksmuseum (including the cushy nesting boxes the museum painstakingly installed for them) to live in another scenic location: the top of the Westertoren, arguably the most picturesque tower in the city.
When they’re not relaxing and living the high life, these predatory birds have a top speed of over 300 km/h, making it an extremely difficult time to be a pigeon in Amsterdam right now.
Come to Amsterdam at the right time, and you might be lucky enough to spot a group of colorful pink flamingos in the heart of the city… at ARTIS Zoo. The zoo has a wide variety of birds, like penguins, parrots, peacocks, pelicans – and those are just the ones starting with P.
While it’s always more exciting to see birds out in the wild, ARTIS provides visitors with the chance to see some pretty amazing creatures that you simply won’t find elsewhere in the Netherlands – unless you’ve got a hot tip on where to find a giant toucan.
Blackbirds, sparrows, thrush, wood pigeons, crows, robins, starlings, ducks, and more.