Can you believe that you can meet flamingos in the moors of North Rhine-Westphalia, that bison stroll the forests of Wittgenstein, and that entire colonies of butterflies are living on the Hanover cliffs? More than half of NRW is covered in forests, rivers, meadows, and fields. The twelve nature parks cover about 40 percent of the state’s land area now. The Eifel National Park houses original beech forests where many endangered animals can once again be at home. Among them are wildcats, beavers, and black storks. Let us take you on a journey of discovery through NRW.
Exotic birds in the Münsterland
The most unusual natural spectacle may be offered to visitors in the Zwillbrocker Fens, the nature reserve and bird sanctuary in the Münsterland where wild flamingos have taken up residence. The exotic birds have picked this area as a breeding ground, making it the northernmost flamingo breeding colony in Europe. The pink animals can be observed here from March to July, and if they successfully raise their chicks even all the way into September. You can get particularly close to them by bike as the 450-kilometre-long Flamingo Route will take you right past these long-legged birds.
At home in the Wittgenstein forests
Bison are true giants not only compared to the graceful storks. Europe’s largest mammals on land weigh up to a ton a piece. The only wild herd on the entire continent is living in the region of Siegen-Wittgenstein. Very lucky visitors may watch them in the Wittgenstein forests. Chances of catching a glimpse of these animals are greater in the Wisent-Wildnis on the Rothaarsteig near Bad Berleburg, where a small group of bison roam a natural but enclosed area about 20 hectares in size. More bison are living in the Neandertal valley. These are not wild, however: Near the eponymous museum, they share their “Ice Age Game Enclosure” with some other ancient animals such as the aurochs or tarpans.
Dülmen wild horses
Through the Münsterland at a gallop
There are some other famous wild animals living in the Naturpark Hohe Mark: the Dülmen wild horses. Like the bison in the Wittgenstein region, they are the only remaining herd of their kind living on the European continent. They are largely left to their own devices here. Tourists and locals find the big wild horse round-up in the Merfelder Bruch on the last Saturday in May a great highlight of the year, where catchers will set out to hunt year-old stallions with nothing but their bare hands. Once captured, the animals will be auctioned or raffled off to be tamed and later take rides through the vast parkland of Münsterland or pull carriages.
Storks & Arctic wild geese
Loud chattering on the Lower Rhine and in the Teutoburg Forest
A unique natural spectacle can be found on the Lower Rhine every winter, when up to 25,000 Arctic wild geese use the Bislicher Island floodplains as their quarters for the cold season. You can hear the animals’ chattering as they make their comparatively warm winter quarters on the meadows and fields between Duisburg and the Dutch border even from afar. The region is the largest resting area for Arctic wild geese in Western Europe: 30 percent of the Western European population of white-fronted geese alone resides between Duisburg and Nijmegen in the winter months.
The stork has settled in the great peat bog in the Teutoburg Forest. Chances of spotting one of these rare specimens are best in June, when the birds are out catching frogs. The mystical bog is always worth a trip anyway, of course. The region can be discovered particularly well on the three-kilometre-long bog adventure trail, which is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers.
Fragile and delicate creatures in the Teutoburg Forest
Visitors can enjoy a great view of some particularly delicate beauties from the Weser-Skywalk at the Hanover cliffs near Beverungen. This area is a veritable butterfly paradise: About 500 species have been recorded here, including some that usually prefer warmer climes such as the Mediterranean area. The sun heats up the cliffs enough for them to also settle along the Weser River now.