Bird watching in the Top of Denmark

The Top of Denmark is perfect for bird watching all year round. Find tips for great bird watching places and for what to bring when going bird watching. See the spring migration over Skagen and enjoy the unique nature in the Top of Denmark.

The Top of Denmark - the best place to spot birds - whatever the time of year!

The northern part of Denmark is a magical region to watch birds. This region of Denmark contains a great mosaic of landscapes and habitats, as a result of which there's a huge number of different species of birds - ranging from the smallest Goldcrests to Europe's tallest bird, the Crane - that can be spotted in the region. You can see a great number of common species of birds at various locations such as the beach, sea, salt marshes, dune heaths, bogs, deciduous and coniferous forests, river valleys and rocky islets. You may also be lucky enough to see extremely rare species. In the Land of Light you can see fantastic birds all year round.

Winter

There are often large numbers of birds to be spotted over the sea, including ducks, gulls, auks, and guillemots. The fishing ports at Hirtshals, Skagen and Strandby are well worth a visit to see the fascinating gulls.

Spring

Birds come to breed, and announce their arrival via their different songs. Depending on the location, you can find many breeding birds. Spring migration takes place over Skagen, but large migrations can also be seen along the east or west coasts depending on the weather conditions.

Summer

Breeding pairs raise their young during the summer. It's quiet time, but try heading out into one of the dune plantations on a summer night to listen to the strange churring trill of the Nightjar.

Autumn

The time for birds migrating south. Watching the staging areas of waders on beaches and salt marshes as well as seabirds and webfooted birds over the sea are interesting ways to pass the time.

Tips for a bird watching trip

There are birds everywhere, but once you've decided to really WATCH them, your vision will be sharpened; you notice their shape, colour, flight and silhouette. Your hearing will also be enhanced as you listen to the bird's song. Find some great tips below worth following for a successful bird watching trip:

- Visit the great bird watching places
- Bring binoculars
- Borrow some great bird books (available in libraries and other places)
- Participate in a guided bird watching trip
- Remember warm clothes, good waterproof shoes
- Bring a lunch and hot drinks
- A small backpack
- Something to sit on

Remember: Take care of flora and fauna and follow roads/paths

Where do you find birds?

1 Stensnæs - beach and salt marshes

Stensnæs is a small nodule that sticks out into Kattegat south of Sæby near the town Lyngså. The sand accummulates here due to the ocean currents in this area, and there is therefore both a reef (Stensnæs Flak) near the coast and an ongoing extension of the coast to the east. However, the area is a good habitat for birds because the sea is very shallow and actually becomes a tidal flat at low tide. The tidal flats provide a great source of food for waders, small birds, ducks and geese. At the same time, the coastal area behind the beach is one of the increasingly rare salt marshes, which consists of cropped measows, waterholes, small lakes and saltwater lagoons, thus making up an ideal location for many species of bird and other wildlife.

At Stensnæs you'll find many waders from September through to May: the Ruddy Turnstone, Common Ringed Plover, several species of calidrids, Eurasian Curlew, Northern Lapwing, Grey Plover and not least the Oystercatcher spend their winters here. The entire population of pale-bellied Brant Geese from Svalbard inhabit the area during autumn and spring. Stensnæs is a reserve that is free of hunting and other disturbances. Hunting is restricted primarily due to the large number of Common Teal that are in the area during September. The teal is our smallest duck and it's fascinating to watch these energetic ducks in the saltwater lagoon behind the beach.

Stensnæs is also known for its many small birds: the Meadow Pipit, Eurasian Skylark, Common Linnet and White Wagtail all belong to the common breeding birds. During the winter the area is frequented by small flocks of Snow Bunting, Twite and other small birds that breed at northern latitudes. For those interested in botany, Stensnæs also has several unusual plant species.

2. Sæbygård Skov (forest) - urban jungle

An early morning in May in the forest of Sæbygård is synonymous with a wealth of attractions - not least the verdant beech forest which is now in leaf. Birdlife at this time of year is also at its height.

Songbirds twitter away, busily building nests, brooding and searching for food. Jackdaws and Hooded Crows fly merrily over the forest and their easily recognisable calls can be heard throughout. Perhaps you'll also hear the call of its cousin, the Common Raven, as it glides above the treetops.

Down between the trees Eurasian Nuthatches dart up and down the tree trunks whilst its merry cheeky call echoes through the forest. You can also spot the Coal Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Marsh Tit, all of which are busy in their own way. The Common Blackbird keeps a close eye on what's going on and the Song Thrush and Tree Pipit sing from their lookouts high up in the tree crowns. If you're lucky, you may also hear the Wood Warbler's characteristic call, pit-pit-pitpitpitpt-t-t-ttt, and the Common Chiffchaff's chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff, which compete in song with Willow Warbler's wistful tones.

However, the most fascinating sound is that of the Stock Dove, which produces a short, deep ooo-uu-ooh, similar to blowing in a bottle. You have to get close. And while you're listening to them, a small blue dart may come racing along the stream. This is the Common Kingfisher. It also breeds in the quiet of the forest where the stream lazily meanders towards the town and Kattegat. During the winter the White-throated Dipper inhabits the stream along with the Kingfisher.

3. Elling Strandenge (salt marshes) and Elling Å (stream)

The stream and the area around its mouth as it runs out into Kattegat are wedged between Strandby and Frederikshavn and are home to a fantastic gem of nature. If left undisturbed, the combination of a stream which meanders its way towards the sea and the flat meadows behind the dunes makes up a fantastic natural habitat. This is the case for the salt marshes near Elling.

The outlet in Kattegat, which is slowly moving south, is home to unique wildlife, of which the birds are the most visible sign. The mix of freshwater from the stream, the briny seawater and the shallow waters of the area around the mouth of the stream create a unique wealth of wildlife which the birds live off. Gulls, geese, ducks and cormorants forage here all year round. Waders gather here when migrating during the spring and autumn, in particular south of the outlet of the stream.

A morning walk along the beach from the harbour at Rønnerhavnen (harbour) to the mouth of the stream provides the sight of a great range of birds including the Red Knot, Common Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher Common Redshank, etc. There are always lots of small birds in the thicket along the beach, and during the summer you can see the Common Rosefinch, which is a rare breeding bird in Denmark. If you cross the stream via the bridge from Kæret, you'll reach a large area of reeds. The Common Reed Bunting an be found here throughout the year, and during the breeding period the Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler can be heard from the dense area of reeds. During the late summer you can experience the so-called Black Sun, when several hundred starlings settle in the reeds that provide a safe refuge from nocturnal predators.

The salt marshes are also home to many waders and anseriformes. A few pairs of Greylag Goose, Mallard and Common Shelduck breed here, as do the Common Redshank and Common Ringed Plover. Other birds staging here include teals and other rare ducks which enjoy the small waterholes. These birds can easily be seen from the bird tower located in the middle of the area by the old gravel road.

4. Råbjerg Mile (dune) and Milesøerne (dune lakes)

Lace up your walking boots and take a hearty  packed lunch as you head out on a fascinating hike which - if you wish - can last all day. The marshland, the dune lakes and the huge dune of Råbjerg Mile itself make up a fantastic area with highly varied flora and fauna. Don't be a afraid of the adder, which you may encounter on your walk. It won't do anything if you leave it alone. You can always pick up and admire the slow-worn, on the other hand. This legless lizard is not at all dangerous and is interesting to observe. As it blossoms, Cottongrass covers the marshes in a fantastic white blanket and several species of butterfly and dragonfly flutter between the plants and along the paths.

The Crane welcomes you with its loud trumpeting call, and although you might not be able to see it at first glance, then take a closer look; it'll certainly be keeping an eye on you. The Whinchat sings from the top of a mugwort or another shrub in open areas, and if you're lucky you'll get a glimpse of its cousin, the European Stonechat, which is very rare in Denmark, but which occasionally breeds in the area. You find the Eurasian Curlew at the lakes, where it uses its curved bill to hunt for snails and other food in the deep mud around the lake where the natterjack toad is found. You may also come across the White Wagtail, the Eurasian Skylark, various small birds and the Common Snipe. At the en of your hike, you may be lucky enough to see one or more of the area's stags keeping a watchful eye on your movements.

5. Skagens Gren (the northern tip)

At Grenen at the very top of Denmark the ocean currents of the North Sea and Kattegat meet. Grenen is a fantastic - and very popular - vantage point throughout most of the year.

Skagen is particularly famous for its spring migration, where the migrating birds of prey in particular are a fantastic sight. From the end of March until the beginning of June large flocks of birds migrate north leaving behind the safety of the land and heading out across the sea. Throughout autumn Skagen is also a fascinating location, where Grenen's proximity to the sea makes it an excellent place from which to watch seabirds and staging waders, gulls and terns.

Seeing the migration of birds of prey in the spring is a spectacular sight. Migration over the land up through Denmark ends in the "frenzy" at the spit of Skagens Odde before the birds leave Jutland heading for Northern Scandinavia. This lasts from the middle of March until June, where - depending on the weather - you can experience groups of buzzards, eagles and other birds of prey circling in the sky before heading off over the sea.

If you wish to do some birdwatching at Grenen, the easiest place to start is the car park at Grenen Kunstmuseum (art museum). From here there's a 10-minute walk north to the outermost north-easterly dune, from where you have a great view of both seas and can follow the migration over the land at the same time. There's also a good view from the most easterly dunes north of the large car park, and if you wish to get closer to the seabirds, staging waders and small birds, you can go down onto the beach.

The area between Grenen Kunstmuseum and Grenen is a good staging location for small birds, and during spring and autumn Skagen Fuglestation carries out the ringing of small birds caught in nets. If you see a net with birds in it, don't get too close, as this will frighten the birds. Keep your distance until the ringer turns up on his rounds. Then you'll be able to watch and learn about this fascinating task.

6. Flagbakken near Skagen

Flagbakken is situated south of the main road just before it enters the town of Skagen from the south. The 24-metre high hillock is the highest point in Skagen. The great view from the rise makes it the best and most popular observation point for birds of prey in Skagen, especially when the wind is blowing from between north and east, but also in light, changeable winds. On the best days more than 100 birdwatchers can sit on the hillock and watch the migrating birds. On a good day up to 15 different species of birds of prey can be seen. There's an information board featuring descriptions of the birds.

7. Nordstrand

The good viewpoints over the sea mean that the beach at Nordstrand is well worth a visit whatever the time of year. Nordstrand is a good vantage point during the spring, when you can see the birds migrating over the sea and those migrating over the land. During the autumn it's a good place to watch seabirds. Another good place to watch the birds is the dune near the car park at the en of Batterivej, where there are views of both the sea and the land. One or two of the bunkers in the area make good vantage points, as does the outermost row of dunes.

8. Vandplasken - a splash from the great sea

Behind the row of dunes at the beach at Kærsgård Strand there's a protected area of water called Vandplasken. It's a fantastic area for birds. In the spring many migrating birds can be seen from tops of dunes; both those that migrate over the sea and those that choose the safer option of migrating over land. The Merlin, Red Kite and Peregrine Falcon are amongst the birds of prey, but migrations of small birds and waders are also fascinating to watch. Birds such as the Red-necked Grebe, Common Redshank and Greylag Goose breed at Vandplasken and Åslyngen, whilst there are numerous interesting waders and ducks during the migration period.

There's no access to Vandplasken, but the lake can be seen from the dune tops. If you follow the North Sea trail to the south or north, you'll find the birds that frequent the open countryside - the Common Linnet, Common Whitethroat, Meadow Pipit, Whinchat - in addition to which you may be fortunate enough to spot the European Stonechat or a Red-backed Shrike.

9. Rubjerg Knude

The landscape near Rubjerg Knude is quite unique, and surrounding the plantation at Rubjerg Plantage the 600 ha. of sea buckthorn thicket is Denmark's largest. Sea buckthorn has nasty thorns which provide protection for small creatures and birds. A number of birds conceal themselves in the sea buckthorn, which is also the reason why the Rubjerg area has a large population of Linnet, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Icterine Warbler and Dunnock. During the summer many birds use the thicket to conceal themselves and their nests - and you can find insects which the Red-backed Shrike has impaled on the prickles of the sea buckthorn. During the winter, then the thicket has lots of attractive yellow-orange berries, you can see large flocks of thrushes eating the berries. Up to 30,000 Fieldfares have been counted in the sea buckthorn thicket, a flock which can quickly devour all the berries.  If you wish to see migrating birds of prey, then the best time to see them is when there's a mild wind blowing from the east and south-east. In the morning there are many finches, starlings and doves, swallows and swifts. Later during the day, as the air begins to get warm, birds of prey will appear.

10. Hirtshals Havn (port) and Fyr (lighthouse)

The Port of Hirtshals, which is a fishing and ferry port, is situated exactly at the point where the coastline makes a 90-degree turn. The location means that you can see lots of seabirds - both those that migrate along the coast and those that use the harbour as a staging post to shelter from harsh weather conditions. In addition, fishing activities provide an ample source of food for gulls in particular. Among the best places to see birds at the port of Hirtshals are the harbour office and near the crane at the ice-making facility. When the fish are unloaded, there's plenty of opportunity to see the many gulls. In fact it's location in Denmark that has the greatest number of species of gull - no less than 13!

At the port of Hirtshals you'll find a pretty big colony of the attractive Black-legged Kittiwake, a species of gull which is often seen along with other species, but which is very different. It's characterised by its black wingtips which look as though they've been dipped in ink. It's a genuine Atlantic bird which breeds on the cliffs facing directly onto the heavy seas. At the port of Hirtshals the tall buildings at the port are reminiscent of such cliffs. At the dry dock Black-legged Kittiwakes can be seen breeding during the season.

At the lighthouse, which is situated in the dunes to the south, there's a good view of the sea. In the water close to the lighthouse is a stone reef which attracts ducks, including the Common Eider and Common Scoter. Hirtshals is a good place to watch migrating birds in the spring. The birds often follow the coastline when migrating north, and here at Hirtshals both seabirds and land-based birds can be seen in great numbers. Some birds migrate from Hirtshals over the water to Norway, whilst the majority migrate towards Skagen and then onwards to Northern Scandinavia.

More about the birds and places in the brochure about birds

Which birds can you see?

The Black Guillemot - with its bright red legs

If you sail to the islands of Hirsholmene off the coast of Frederikshavn, you'll be welcomed by a small black auk with bright red legs. This is the Black Guillemot, which breeds between the rocks on the harbour's southern breakwater. There are very few breeding colonies in Denmark, with the approximately 700 pairs on Hirsholm being the biggest. The Black Guillemot belongs to the group of auks which live most of their life at sea, where they are fantastic at catching fish and can withstand storms and extreme cold like no other birds. Only during the breeding period - from April until the end of June - do they go ashore. They can dive deep below the waves and shoot up to the surface with a bill full of sand eels and other small fry. When the Black Guillemot flies, it does so at a low height above the water with very rapid beats of its wings, almost like a small rocket above the water. The two large white wing linings on the otherwise black bird are among its distinguishing marks.

The Crane - trumpet and potatoes

During recent years the Crane has returned to the Danish countryside. In North Jutland more and more pairs are beginning to breed, for example in the marshes near Råbjerg. Although the Crane is a large bird, it can be difficult to spot during its breeding period, when it keeps a low profile. Otherwise the Crane is visible in the landscape, where it happily moves around in small flocks emitting its echoing trumpet call far and wide. You'll either see the Crane walking slowly throughout marshland areas or on fields looking for food, which primarily consists of plants, grass, grain and preferably potatoes. It can also eat insects, etc. The Crane is perhaps best known for the large gatherings at Hornboga Sjön in Sweden during the early spring, where they dance their breeding grounds in Denmark. Two Cranes standing opposite each other dancing up and down is a truly remarkable sight.

The European Nightjar - the goatsucker

In North Jutland you will find some of the country's best places to experience the very special European Nightjar. Not many people know this strange bird, which disappears completely during the day, but which at night is both visible and inquisitive. The European Nightjar breeds in spruce plantations that have glades in which it can hunt. Its staple diet is made up of nocturnal moths and it catches them by opening up its beak like a net. The European Nightjar has been the source of many myths, including stories of how it sucked the blood of sheep and goats during the hours of darkness, hence its nickname of "goatsucker". Its call sounds like the noise made when a piece of cardboard hits the spokes of a revolving bicycle wheel - a sound that's familiar to most young boys. During the hours of darkness the sound can be somewhat eerie if you don't know what it is. Head out on a quiet night in aalbæk or the dune plantation near Skagen and listen to this fascinating bird.

The Common Ringed Plover - the holy bird

The Common Ringed Plover is one of the more common waders that breed in Denmark. On many of our beaches you may meet the Common Ringed Plover at any time of the year energetically searching for food at the water's edge and in the sand. It breeds on the beach, where it scrapes a small hole in the sand and lays its eggs, which of course look like small stones. This means that it's often disturbed. You'll realise that you're near a nest if it runs around vociferously in front of you with one wing dragging on the sand. But this little bird is trying to deceive you. It's acting to get your attention and to lead you away from its nest. If you wish to be sure that you don't tread on its nest, then follow the bird. Once the danger subsides, the plover will fly away and leave you alone once more. Its colouring around its neck resembles that of a white clerical collar.

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The eagles' world

Ørnereservatet, Tversted

Visit the Eagleworld in the Top of Denmark and experience the royal birds at close hand.

Ørnereservatet - Eagleworld, Tversted

Events with bird watching

Participate in the yearly events with bird watching, with or without guides. E.g.:

Skagen Fuglefestival (bird festival)

Naturens / Fuglens dag (the national celebration of nature)

The Top of Denmark's bird folder

Fuglefolder

Download the bird folder from the Top of Denmark and read about the many bird species and bird watching locations. Or pick it up at one of the local tourist offices.

Bird folder (PDF)

Which birds can you see?

Rød glente

The Corn Bunting

The European Golden Plover

The Red Kite

The Thrush Nightingale

The Black Guillemot

The Crane

The European Nightjar

The Common Ringed Plover

Where to find the bird tower?

Fugleudsigtstårn i Toppen af Danmark

In several places in the Top of Denmark you will find bird towers from where you can observe the rich bird life.

Selection of bird towers

Great links

More knowledge about birds and current events:

Naturstyrelsen.dk

Dansk Ornitologisk Forening (DOF)

DOF Nordjylland

DOFbasen.dk

Staying overnight in the Top of Denmark

Find inspiration for the right accommodation for you.