Saturday 13 September 2014

Bird watching in Normandy

Posted by Rosie

If you enjoy birdwatching, Normandy is a great location to see plenty of our feathered friends.  You are guaranteed to see plenty of birds when you head out with your binoculars ... or even if you head out without them.  There is also a good chance you might see some rarities.  We see lots of birds on a daily basis from sparrows, finches and tits to jays, kestrels and buzzards. At night you will more than likely hear owls and should you get up with the rising sun in May and June the dawn chorus is fabulous.  This year our breeding swallows were also back.  No swallows returned to us 2 years ago and last year some came back but none bred.  This year they were back breeding and you had to remember to duck when you went into some of the buildings in case Mum or Dad swooped into you!

Baby swallows at Eco-Gites of Lenault

So why is Normandy so good for birds?  It is all down to varied habitats, non-intensive farming, low population and it's location on mainland Europe

Habitats in Normandy:

A wide variety of natural habitats will give rise to a large and varied bird population.  In Normandy all these habitats are present:
  • Coast - dunes, sandy beaches, mud flats
  • Farmland with plenty of old farm buildings/derelict houses and a variety of crops
  • Grasslands
  • Woodland
  • Hedgerows
  • Rivers
  • Cliffs
  • Some urban areas

In much of the countryside the farming is not intensive.  There is not a large input of agricultural chemicals resulting in a healthy level of wild flowers and insects which help bird populations to flourish.  Also, because Normandy is on mainland Europe there are some birds here on the northern edge of their range that only very rarely fly across The Channel to Great Britain.  Over our time here we have been lucky enough to see 4 really quite rare birds:

Rare Bird Sightings at Eco-Gites of Lenault in Normandy

Hen Harrier (RSPB image)

Hen Harrier

We were driving back up our front drive one evening and this almost ghostly bird swept over the field behind the house.  Luckily it stayed long enough for us to get a good view of it and identify it as a Hen Harrier.  They are resident all year round in Normandy but number have declined due to localised persecution and nest destruction.  Since writing this blog post, however,  I can add that I saw another one a couple of weeks ago.  I am so pleased.

Black Stork

Black Stork (Wiki)
We have seen this almost totally black heron-like bird in the valley below the house on several occasions.  Whilst the whitush feathers of the hen harrier give them a ghostly appearance the black feathers of ths stork make them appear rather like shadows in the sky.  Although the map on this page indicates they are only summer residents in a few parts of France, a friend who is an avid birdwatcher has confirmed that they have both moved further north into Normandy and have also been breeding here.  Good news indeed as they are numbered at no more that 500-600 pairs. 

Black Woodpecker

Black Woodpecker (Wiki)
Another almost black bird except for the red flash on it's head, Black Woodpeckers in Normandy are at the very limit of their distribution.  The one I saw was flying across the field by our front drive.  Annoyingly I was on my way to take the boys to the bus stop so could not stop and I have never seen one since.  Simon and others have however seen them so they are around, if elusive to catch site of.  I hear a lot of woodpeckers tapping in the trees and always wonder if it is a black one I can hear.


Hoopoe (image from
Hoopoes are the sort of bird that once you see one you cannot be in any doubt of what it was you saw.  With their distinctive orange, black and white colouring and impressive crest they will not be mistaken for anything else. So once again when I was on the school run and one flew across in front of the car I knew instantly what I had just seen.  Like the black woodpecker I have never seen one again although a few weeks ago Simon spotted one down in the valley. They are only summer visitor here so I will be keeping my eyes peeled this summer hoping to see one again.

If you fancy a trip to Normandy for some bird watching our gite is well situated in a rural location and we would love to welcome you here with your walking boots and binoculars!  Please visit our website for further details, availability and to make a booking:


  1. I became keen on bird watching after seeing such a variety when we were living in the Hamptons, US. Last summer I also saw a Hen Harrier here in UK which is a rarity. I'd love to see a Hoopoe. What a wonderful variety you have in Normandy!

  2. The first photo is an amazing capture! Love the way their beaks are open-wide demanding to be fed. Reminds me of a little person, the only difference is, she doesn't have her mouth-open that wide when she's hungry ;) Fantastic photos :) #animaltales

  3. I love birds but my eyesight isn't great for spotting them. In my old house I had swifts that used to nest in the eaves - loved watching all the action above my bedroom window.

  4. Hubby has always been a bird watcher and he has converted me that's for sure. I'd love to come and do some bird watching in Normandy and drink some of the local cider (which is awesome, I know because I tried some last week)

  5. Owls are my favourite birds, though you only get to see them in zoos etc. You are lucky to have so many lovely birds where you are. How lovely to have the swallows nesting again :)

  6. Lucas says - I love bird watching and Dad Dah has started taking me to the reservoir to look at all the different types. The Mother says she loves the first photo of the baby Swallows. #animaltales

  7. Wow, fabulous! We love going to the wildfowl and wetland trust nearby to birdwatch. You are so lucky to have all of these on your door step. One of my overriding memories of living in France was watching the birds migrating. I just remember the sky being totally black with birds for about half an hour. It put a total stop to the studying we were doing at the time!


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