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Winter in the Biesbosch

The Biesbosch is of great importance for national and even Western European populations of waterbirds during the winter period. Large numbers of waterbirds specifically come to the Biesbosch from late summer onwards to winter here. From November onwards, we see increasing numbers of species from the Far North joining them. These species have been coming to the Biesbosch for generations and are very sensitive to disturbance. Here they find open flowing water, food and the necessary peace and quiet. Freshwater tidal areas are rare but oh so important for water birds to get through the winter. That is why the Forestry Commission has been using hibernation for years to offer tens of thousands of waterbirds the necessary peace and quiet.

A winter scene in the Biesbosch with a beautiful male goosander. Photo: Joey Braat - Staatsbosbeheer

Winter rest has started

The winter dormancy period started on 1 November in the Biesbosch and continues until 1 March.

From then on, most of the waterbirds left for the north and regained enough energy for the coming breeding season. These rest areas are already closed parts of the Biesbosch and 5 lee places on larger creeks. Here we have been seeing concentrations of waterbirds for years that are very regularly disturbed by boating recreation. You can view the rest areas via the following link:

Herberg De Biesbosch (Inn)

Many tens of thousands of water birds, such as geese, herons, raptors, gulls and ducks stay here throughout the winter period. The Biesbosch is no accidental destination. The large open stretches of water freeze over less quickly, are nutrient-rich and the waterbirds stay in parts that are relatively sheltered from wind and weather. In these places, sufficient food is available and the birds wait in the lee of the Biesbosch until winter is over and spring begins. The birds migrate to the Biesbosch to regain strength for the return trip and/or in preparation for winter and the coming breeding season. Waterbirds need all their energy to do so. Disturbance during this period can lead to insufficient rest which may result in birds leaving the area and/or not even surviving the winter. And that is not the intention!

Waterbirds are sensitive to disturbance

Waterbirds are extremely shy, so disturbance on open water happens quickly. Food is scarce, disturbance is quick and so they lose a lot of energy.

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Boating and waterbirds do not mix well. We see this every day and, especially in winter, vulnerable species really suffer. Species such as nuthatches, tufted ducks and goldeneyes fly up when approaching a boat at a distance of many hundreds of metres.

If several boats an hour pass by and through groups of waterbirds, the birds are just flying. Then they cannot rest, eat, become exhausted and the Biesbosch does not provide the necessary safe resting place these birds need. Therefore, it is important that the waterbirds in the Biesbosch can find the necessary rest in several places. This in such a way that the creeks remain navigable.

Large flocks of wigeons rest in the enclosed waters in the Sliedrecht Biesbosch. At each boat, they fly around for a long time. Photo: Thomas v.d Es - Staatsbosbeheer

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That visitors are not allowed to sail into the closed areas is indicated by signs. In addition to the familiar red-white-red signs, the Forestry Commission recently added new signs.

In Dutch and English, they indicate that entry is not allowed. Too often, we still see visitors entering the closed areas, causing a lot of disruption.

The signs should help to prevent this unwanted entry.

The new signs should contribute to fewer disruptions in already closed areas. Photo: Cor de Cock

Enjoy and allow birds to rest in winter

Many people head out in the winter months to enjoy the beautiful Biesbosch. By boat, by bike or on foot, they discover nature. The Biesbosch also certainly offers many people the peace and quiet they need. We ask water sports enthusiasts in particular to be mindful of the water birds and not to enter the bird rest areas between 1 November and 1 March. In several places, you can enjoy beautiful species such as great gooses, netters, goldeneyes, widgeons, tufted ducks, grebes and maybe even a bald eagle! Walkers have a good view of the birds from the various footpaths. Good starting points are the car parks at the Biesbosch Museum Island, Jantjesplaat car park and the Nieuwe Dordtse Biesbosch. For more information, and

Read the blog here: Winterrust in de Biesbosch - Biesbosch (

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