These are the ‘Big Five’ of Amsterdam (and we went looking for them)

Now that we can‘t make distant safaris for wildlife spotting, we’re looking for it closer to home. Did you know that every city has its own Big Five? Together with city ecologist Fred Haaijen we went looking for the big five of Amsterdam.

โ€œ Yes, look, there he flies!โ€ calls Fred Haaijen and points in the distance. Haaijen is a city ecologist at the municipality of Amsterdam and we are in the oldest forest of the city โ€” the Vliegenbos โ€” looking for the Big Five: the top five special wildlife.

Looking at him, I get the feeling he‘s fooling me. Because I don’t see anything flying. โ€œWe‘re going to find him,โ€ says Haaijen. โ€œIf I were a kingfisher, I would prefer to sit there in the quiet part on those oblique branches, just above the water so that I see every fish passing by, for it hunts.โ€ He grabs his binoculars: โ€œJaaaa, there he is, with his bright blue and orange colors!โ€

I really don’t believe it, but just look through my viewer. Damn! There is just the most beautiful bird in the Netherlands, less than 20 meters from me. We can tick that off! On to the other four.

โ€œ Beyond that lives a tree owlโ€, the ecologist knows as if he was going to visit an old acquaintance. โ€œThere was a tree there that was dangerously weak and had to leave. He could fall over like this. But by taking the treetop off, there remained a safe piece that very soon all kinds of animals make grateful use of, because dead wood lives! So a forest owl went to live within a week.โ€


Shark binoculars pointing up obliquely. โ€œHe‘s at home,โ€ he whispers. I think mine of it and look for the shape anyway. When I look into the big owl eyes, I know for sure, this man knows where to find them. Number 2 of the big five: check!

โ€œ If you even get a little deeper into the animals, they are much easier to find,โ€ says the city ecologist. โ€œBecause if you know what they love, you know where to look.โ€

We leave the Vliegenbos and cycle towards Schellingwoude over the dike. Sharks points to a few bushes on the edge of a pasture and tells that in the spring a mother fox lived and played with her two cubs rolled through the pasture. Unfortunately, in the winter we are not going to see this member of the Big 5.



That also applies to the next candidate. On the bank of the Buiten-IJ there are heaps of branch forests and maaisel. โ€œSpecially laid out so that the ring hoses can lay their eggs in it,โ€ says Haaijen. โ€œIn the first, fifty eggs were laid ten years ago, now there are some 2200 in all the heaps!โ€ Too bad that the ring snake does not show itself today, but that is also nature. All the more reason to come back again.

We’ll have better luck down the road. Low above the reed circles with graceful blows the brown harrier, looking for a prey. Of course, our guide now knows where to look. โ€œThe brown harrier loves marshy swamp land with lots of reeds. Thus, each animal has a preference for a particular area. Once you know it, searching becomes a lot easier!โ€

For fauna you do not always have to travel far. Just in or near the city you can see a lot. Just know where to look.

These are

Kingfisher: Although remarkably blue/orange coloured, this shy bird shows little. Even though his name suggests otherwise, he hates ice cream. It is probably a corruption of the Germanic ‘Eisenvogel’ (ironbird) due to its metallic luster.

Owl: This grey-brown owl prefers to live in a hollow tree and goes hunting for small mammals at night. Owl chicks must, as soon as they can fly, leave the nest and live on their own. Usually within a radius of 50 km.

Ring-hose: harmless to man, even if he can grow longer than a meter. When he feels threatened, he winds on his back, turns his eyes away, opens his mouth, tongue out and pretends to be dead.

Fox: This beautiful predator is as loved as hated. The haters find that he does too much damage, including meadow birds, while lovers feel that he is too often designated as a scapegoat.

Harrier: With a wingspan of 1 meter 25 as big as a buzzard, but with a smaller head. He lives mainly in swampy areas and breeds on the ground.