Europe is a continent that offers a vast array of different landscapes and habitats for wildlife. The climate varies across the continent too, which allows for many different species and types of birds for those of us who enjoy spotting. Below, James at Birdwatching Buzz will tell you about the best birding spots and countries for bird watching in Europe, so you can plan your journey to take in the most spectacular sights.
The United Kingdom is home to many different birds and is of particular interest for its shorelines, wetlands and fascinating islands. Among the highly recommended locations is the Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast in the North Sea. Take a boat trip to the islands and you will see – in season – puffins, terns, and kittiwakes that breed here, and it’s a sight to behold. These are protected colonies, so you may have to stay on the boat depending on the time of year.
At Loch Garten in the Scottish Highlands, visitors will be treated to the sight of one of the rarest birds in the UK, the magnificent Osprey, swooping down to the waters to catch its prey. There are few more entrancing sights than that of this enormous bird of prey in its natural habitat, and the location itself is worth the visit alone. Also, look out for the Capercaillie, the largest game bird in the UK, which also nests here.
Among the many fine birding spots in Britain is Rutland Water. Within the borders of Rutland, the UK’s smallest county, this beautiful spot is home not just to Egyptian Geese, ospreys and the very rare Tree Sparrow, but it also hosts the British Birdwatchers Fair, the largest of its kind in the country and well worth a visit if you plan your trip for August.
These are just a few of many hundreds of exciting and rewarding birdwatching destinations in Great Britain, and we recommend you research in detail as there is plenty more to see.
France is a very popular country for bird spotting and offers a wealth of different types of destinations. Among the most popular – and we would put it as a must-see location – is the area of the Camargue Wetlands on the Mediterranean coast. Here you will be treated to the sight of many migrating birds, herons, and egrets, and – a rare sight in the wild in Europe – Greater Flamingos, which are simply spectacular. The Carmargue Wetlands cover 900km² so it’s worth investigating the best places to go in advance.
Southern France is also home to one of Europe’s most beautiful birds, the Golden Oriole, so check out where they are seen and head for that spot, as it’s not to be missed. A highly recommended destination is Lake der Chantecoq, in the Champagne region. The largest man-made lake in Western Europe, this magnificent stretch of water is where you can see masses of Cranes during their migrations in the spring and autumn, as well as – if you are lucky – a white-tailed eagle soaring above the lake. It’s a beautiful place to visit, with birds adding to the charm.
France is a large country with many excellent birding opportunities, and should certainly be on your list of countries to visit.
While not a country that immediately springs to mind when it comes to birdwatching, you would be foolish to miss this opportunity to witness many different and often rare species in a very beautiful country.
The place to go, undoubtedly, is the Danube River Delta, and it ranks as one of the primary birding locations in all of Europe. The Delta is home to more than 300 species of birds, that’s the resident ones! Also, at the right time of year, you may see many migrating birds that pass through the region, and it can be a spectacular sight with thousands involved.
Several species of eagle nest in the region, as do egrets, vultures, and geese, while the Danube is also a favored spot by cranes and ibis, cormorants, pelicans, and many more species. Few places in the world – let alone Europe – offer such diversity as the Danube Delta, so be sure to put this one high on your shortlist of European birdwatching spots.
Spain is a country that is very popular with birdwatchers, and one of the places you must visit on your European trip is the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park. This 15000 hectare UNESCO designated park in the Spanish Pyrenees is truly magnificent, and among birdwatchers is regarded as one of the very best places on the continent.
Not only is the location itself astonishingly beautiful with its mountain backdrop, but the birds you see here include the stunning Golden Eagle, which soars effortlessly above the mountains and is a breath-taking sight no matter how many times you see it, the rare Black Woodpecker, Ring Ouzels and Water Pipits, among many others in what is a very fine National Park.
Also, a must is the autonomous district of Extremadura. Sharing a border with Portugal, this wonderful place is one of great cultural heritage – itself worth visiting for – but for birdwatchers, it is simply astonishing. The presence of Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, and Black Stork is the main draw, but there is so much to this little community that it has to be experienced.
The Central European countries have only been widely accessible for the last few decades, yet offer excellent birdwatching opportunities as they tend to be unspoiled. Croatia, with its Adriatic Sea coastline, is rapidly becoming a very popular country with birdwatchers, and once you visit you will see why.
The place to go for the best birding in Croatia is Nin, in the Zadar Region. Nin is home to a lagoon that is saline, and as such, the plant life that grows in Nin attracts a diverse and wonderful selection of not just birds, but fascinating wildlife. Witness the Kentish Plover and Kingfisher in their natural habitat, and the Little Egret and Black-Winged Stilt too. These are among hundreds of different species of birds that inhabit the lagoon, and it is an opportunity not to be missed.
Also popular in Croatia for its variety of birds is the island of Pag, in the Lake Vrana Nature Park, and both of these places are beautiful in their own right. The time to go birding in Croatia is now before it becomes more popular as with many other better-known destinations in Europe.
Another country that has only recently become attractive and accessible to tourists, Belarus was once part of the Soviet Union and is a fascinating place to visit. For birdwatchers, many delights are waiting to be seen here, but there is one in particular that is drawing in spotters from all over the world.
The Pripyat River – in particular near to Turov – is the place to go to see one of the rarest of all European birds, the pretty and elusive Azure Tit. It is not present anywhere else in Europe except in Russia and is one to tick off in any birdwatcher’s book. The little bird is not the only reason that this is a prime birding location for you can also see many other rare birds, many of which are species in serious decline, in this untouched region.
The Aquatic Warbler and Great Snipe both nest here, as do the Spotted Crake and Greater Spotted Eagle. Also present are all species of European Woodpecker, plus a wide variety of Owls, and these are just some of more than 200 breeding species of bird in a region that is among the richest in Europe in terms of diversity. Make Belarus a destination for your European tour.
Often forgotten as part of Europe – being a long way from the mainland in the North Atlantic this is no surprise – Iceland is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. With its volcanic origins and many unique features, Iceland benefits from its small population being concentrated in pockets of the country, leaving most of the land uninhabited and therefore ripe for wildlife.
Lake Myvatn, in the north-central region, is famous for at least 15 species of breeding ducks, believed to be more than anywhere else on Earth. River Laxa drains from this very large lake, and on the river nest both the Harlequin Duck and Barrow’s Goldeneye. This is the only place in Europe where these two very rare species breed.
Being heated geothermally, the lake is a prime spot for insects, which in turn leads to it being popular with birds. Visit in the breeding season and you will be treated to the sight of Scaup, Long-Tailed Duck and Common Scoter among many others, feeding on the insects with their ducklings. It’s not all ducks for you can also see Ptarmigan and Great Northern Diver on a visit to Iceland, plus many other rare birds that are found in only a few locations.
The beautiful islands of Greece are a bird spotters paradise, and perhaps the best of them all is Lesbos. A fascinating, friendly and culturally important place to visit, Lesbos is also home to some rare species as well as some more familiar ones.
Kruper’s Nuthatch and the extremely rare Cinereous Bunting both nest here, although as they are small and elusive you may spend a good deal of time tracking them down. Migrating birds are a big draw on Lesbos, and include the likes of Crakes and even Pelicans, the latter of which make a spectacular sight as they arrive and leave en-masse.
If you’re looking to combine a holiday in the sun with a birding break, Lesbos is one to add to your list of places to visit.
The Scandinavian countries have long been a favorite with birdwatchers, and there are few places more impressive than the Svartdalen, not far from the capital city of Stockholm. So popular is this destination with bird spotters that there are even local guides who will take you to where you are most likely to see the main attractions!
The region is famous for its variety of nesting owls, including the Great Grey, Urals, Pygmy and Tenderman’s Owls. Also drawing in spotters are the woodpeckers, among them the rarely-seen Three-toed and Grey-headed varieties. If these rarities are not enough to convince you, Svartdalen is also home to Capercaillie, the Common Rosefinch, and Spotted Crake, while terns and gulls of various varieties enjoy the lakes of this diverse and very beautiful landscape.
The gloriously unique Finnish landscape is a major draw for many varieties of nesting and migrating birds, and for the serious birdwatcher, the place to be is Oulo, which is perhaps the owl-spotting center of Europe. This wonderful region plays host to no fewer than eight of the 10 species of owl native to Finland, and this is another place where you can take advantage of a knowledgeable local guide.
You may see the Great Grey Owl – a simply magnificent bird in both size and how it flies – as well as Europe’s smallest, the Pygmy Owl. Besides, the stunning Hawk Owl is a must-see, and there are many other birds here including terns and sandpipers in the nearby harbor and a variety of wading birds. Go in May when the nights are barely non-existent, and you can listen to the Redwing sing in the middle of the night, a sound you will not experience anywhere other than here.
Final Word – Best countries for bird watching in Europe
Europe is a wonderful continent to explore when it comes to birding, and the above are just a few popular locations in a handful of countries.
There are many more that we could add, so we recommend you check out birding in Europe in greater detail.
Whether you go for the diversity of the UK or the rarities of Belarus, you will find that there is plenty to see in Europe, so start planning your trip right away.