Wildlife in the Netherlands: 5 Dutch animals to spot
When you think of animals in the Netherlands, your mind may drift to house pets or animals in zoos, but you can find a whole range of wonderful Dutch wildlife in national parks or even roaming around your neighbourhood! But which animals are most associated with the Netherlands? And which creatures are you most likely to see in the wild here? Let's dive in, because they're not necessarily the same!
The Netherlands’ national animal
If you’ve seen the Netherlands’ coat of arms, you probably have a good clue about which mane-wearing creature is the national animal. You can see the coat of arms on every website related to the government of the Netherlands, so if you’ve visited one, you have probably seen the Dutch national animal!
What is the Netherlands’ national animal?
The national animal of the Netherlands is the lion. As a symbol of strength and power, the lion has been on the Netherlands’ coat of arms since the 16th and 17th centuries, when the country became independent. On the Dutch coat of arms, you can see two lions standing on a mantel with a shield and crown. The shield itself bears yet another lion wearing a crown, holding a sword on one side and a bundle of seven arrows on the other.
Are there lions in the Netherlands?
While lions feature prominently in Dutch heraldry, you won’t see a lion walking around in the Netherlands — not outside of zoos anyway. This is because lions have not naturally occurred in Western Europe for thousands of years. That begs the question: why is the lion the national animal of the Netherlands?
The coat of arms of the family of the Dutch nobleman, Willem van Oranje-Nassau, has featured lions since the 12th century. During the 16th century, when the Dutch were fighting for their independence, he was an important figure who led the resistance against the Spanish empire, which resulted in the lion becoming a symbol of the resistance. After the Dutch were victorious, they continued to use lions in their coat of arms to honour Willem van Oranje-Nassau and to remember their fight for freedom.
Does the Netherlands have a national bird?
The Netherlands also has a national bird, called the black-tailed godwit (grutto). Nicknamed the king of the meadows, the Dutch public elected it as the national bird of the Netherlands in 2015. With ample sources of water available for the godwit to feed in, it’s understandable why around 85 percent of the bird’s population breeds in the Netherlands. It is usually found in the wetlands of Friesland.
Not only was the black-tailed godwit chosen to be the national bird, but there is even a song written about the bird by Dutch-Frisian artist, Syb van der Ploeg.
Video: YouTube/Vroege Vogels
Wildlife in the Netherlands
From dunes and lakes to wetlands and forests, there are a variety of different ecosystems for wildlife in the Netherlands. The country known for being flat is also relatively small, giving you every opportunity to spot some of these animals in nature.
Top Dutch animals
When you’re exploring nature, either in your backyard or in national parks, these are some of the native animals in the Netherlands to keep an eye out for. Get your binoculars ready and happy spotting!
Red deer (Edelhert)
The red deer is the largest native animal in the Netherlands and lives in herds of up to 3.000 individuals. They’re most commonly found in the centre of the country in the Oostvaardersplassen, and with such large herds, it’s safe to say that you shouldn’t have any trouble spotting them.
Red deer are beautiful animals that are a symbol of nobility in Europe and have been hunted since ancient times for their meat and impressive antlers. In the Netherlands, red deer can only be hunted during certain times of the year and only if they are causing a serious nuisance.
As the fourth-largest deer species in the world, they can be quite intimidating. However, their grand size isn’t the only thing that mystifies people. During the rut, the mating season of deer, they make loud, bellowing calls that can be heard over long distances. The sound can be rather haunting if you don’t know what it is.
Video: YouTube/Golden Red Snake
There are two main types of seals found in the Netherlands: the common seal, or harbour seal, and the grey seal. After hunting seals in the Netherlands was forbidden in 1962, the common seal population increased and has stayed fairly stable in recent years, while the grey seal population continues to grow. Both species are most often found off the coast of Texel in the Wadden Sea, and sometimes in southern Zeeland. You’ll usually be able to see them lazing on sandbanks during low tide, or you may see their cute faces peeking out on the water’s surface.
As opportunistic feeders, what they eat depends on where they are and what type of prey is available. Cod, hake, salmon, crabs and shrimp — they eat it all. Grey seals have even been seen eating larger prey such as birds, young seals and porpoises.
It’s a fact: in 2015 wolves returned to the Netherlands for the first time in approximately 150 years! Since then, more wolf packs and pairs have settled and have produced some adorable pups. There are currently a total of nine wolf packs living in the Dutch wilderness. Seven of these packs have territories in the Veluwe, while the other two live in the Central Drenthe and Drenthe-Friesland regions.
While ecologists and some Dutch residents celebrate the return of wolves and enjoy being able to see them in Dutch national parks, others aren’t too chuffed with their emergence. With more mouths to feed in their growing packs, wolves are venturing closer to humans for prey. Farmers now have to use preventative measures to protect their livestock from wolf attacks that have been occurring more frequently.
Even though they may be causing some problems for the agricultural sector of the country, after nearly going extinct in Europe during the 19th century we’re glad to see them making a comeback!
Wild boar (Everzwijn)
You might expect wolves to be some of the most dangerous animals in the Netherlands, but they are quite shy and would rather run away from humans. That is not the case with wild boars.
Wild boars can be aggressive if they feel cornered, threatened or if they have young piglets with them. They can weigh up to 50 kilograms, and even though they are stout, they are also speedy runners capable of up to 80 kilometres per hour. There have been some attacks on humans and their pets in past years so it is best to keep a safe distance when observing wild boars, especially during breeding season.
You can find wild boars in the Veluwe and National Park De Meinweg, but sometimes they can wander outside those areas. Wild boars are also protected in the Netherlands, but like the red deer they can be hunted during certain seasons and if they cause nuisance outside of nature reserves.
It’s not hard to recognise the black-and-white head of a badger. The most likely time to spot these feisty cuties is at dusk and night, as they are largely nocturnal. Badgers live in a variety of habitats but prefer forested areas on hillsides. So where can you spot badgers in the Netherlands? In the Hoge Veluwe or in forests throughout the country.
Badgers are burrowing animals that can dig tunnels underground. The masterful diggers have on occasion caused some trouble for the Dutch rail network when they created their tunnels under train tracks. Badgers are protected and cannot be moved or harmed, so when they make their cosy tunnels near train tracks, it can cause major delays and cancellations for those using public transportation. It’s easy to forgive — just look at those faces!
Keep a lookout for these animals in the Netherlands!
You’re now ready with a list of wildlife to search for while you’re exploring the Dutch wilderness. Have you seen these animals in the Netherlands? Tell us about any other Dutch animals you think should be on this list!