Flamingos in Münsterland: Zwillbrocker Venn
The exotic pink birds have made their home in this area of moorland and wetland
Flamingos in NRW? The exotic birds have indeed made their home in a nature reserve in Münsterland. They can be seen in the moor and heath landscape of Zwillbrocker Venn.
Visitors to this part of Münsterland could be forgiven for rubbing their eyes in disbelief: Pink birds? Actual flamingos? But their eyes do not deceive them: the world’s most northerly breeding colony of flamingos has indeed been living for the past three decades at Zwillbrocker Venn, a region of forest, moorland, wetland meadows and lakes in North Rhine-Westphalia. In March, the exotic birds fly in from their wintering grounds on the Dutch coast to spend the summer in Münsterland, and sometimes even raise their young. Most of the birds are Chilean flamingos from South America, but several European flamingos and even a red flamingo from the Caribbean complete the colourful company. Their characteristic plumage is the result of their diet of small shrimps, whose pigment become deposited in the birds’ feathers.
No-one is exactly sure how the flamingos arrived in Münsterland. The most likely explanation is that the exotic birds somehow managed to escape from zoos or private collections. The European flamingos could even have flown to Central Europe from Southern Spain or the South of France by themselves. They may not be native to this region, but the flamingos now feel very much at home in Münsterland. And they are welcome here, too – the exotic birds pose no threat to native species and they are causing no damage to the watery habitats of Zwillbrocker Venn. The experts, meanwhile, are not at all surprised that the flamingos have settled at this spot near the German-Dutch border, as this is exactly where they can find the food they love. Zwillbrocker Venn also happens to be the home of Germany’s largest inland black-headed gull colony. The excrement produced by these birds results in an abundance of micro-organisms in the lakes of the region, and the flamingos are able to feast on these in the summer. When the tiny aquatic organisms become much harder to find in winter, the birds head for the south-west coast of Holland in search of food. The migration of the flamingos to their wintering grounds is a unique and impressive sight. Visitors can watch them soar into the air and glide away into the distance from viewing platforms and towers.
White polled heath sheep help to maintain the ecosystem
With their colourful plumage and exotic aura, the flamingos are of course the number one attraction at Zwillbrocker Venn. But there are many other good reasons to visit this diverse nature reserve. Wetland meadows, moors, heathland and lakes provide breeding grounds and habitats for around 60 species of birds as well as many other plants and animals. From the end of June until autumn, the blossoming heather provides a colourful backdrop. White polled heath sheep can be spotted all around in the landscape. They play an important role in managing the natural ecosystem by grazing on birch saplings. The birch trees were able to establish themselves here in the past as a result of man-made drainage channels. Subsequently, the birches had to be laboriously felled and removed to restore the moor and heath to its natural treeless state. The white polled heaths are now free to roam the entire territory and graze on emerging birch trees to prevent them from growing and drawing water from the moor.
First-time visitors to Zwillbrocker Venn should make the visitor centre of the biological field station their first port of call. This is the starting point for walks, hiking paths and cycling routes, and its permanent exhibition provides rich insight into the region’s natural landscape and heritage. Outside the centre, visitors can get a preview of the natural habitats waiting to be explored at Zwillbrocker Venn in an artificial moor, dry heath and miniature lake. There is also a playground and a sensory garden for the youngest family members. Zwillbrock and the biological field station are both on the Flamingoroute, a 450-kilometre cycling route named after the pink birds at Zwillbrocker Venn.
Biological field station visitor centre:
November until the Easter holidays:
Monday – Thursday: 8:00 – 16:30
Friday: 08:00 – 14:30
Easter holidays until October:
Monday – Friday: 08:00 – 16:30
Saturday, Sunday and public holidays: 12:00 – 17:00