Animals and plants on Rømø


It is primarily the birdlife on Rømø that is worth writing home about. Rømø has common Danish animals such as deer, hares, foxes, stoats and many water voles, but the millions of migratory birds flying over Rømø in spring and autumn really are a unique attraction. It is best to observe birds from the coastal meadows at Rømø dyke, Juvre and from the dyke in Stormengene at Havneby.

Kentish plover

Denmark is a favourite breeding ground for the Kentish plover, and they only breed in the Wadden Sea. The biscuit coloured bird is about 16cm long and is recognisable because of its black legs and a black spot on the side of its chest. They prefer nesting in the low sand dunes and short-grassed meadows on Fanø and Rømø. Most of the breeding Kentish plovers in Denmark are spotted near Sønderstrand on Rømø. The Kentish plover is an endangered species.


Ducks, geese and wading birds enjoy the windy Stormengene on the southern point of Rømø.

Stormengene is a bird sanctuary owned by Fugleværnsfonden (a bird charity). Fugleværnsfonden has created good living conditions for the little yellow wagtail, common eider, oystercatcher, lapwing, redshank, lark and meadow pipit, all of which breed in the area. The yellow wagtail lives off insects from grazing cattle cow pats.

Move slowly to the top of the Havneby dyke; there is an excellent view of the birdlife at Stormengene.


Millions of migratory birds fly over Rømø in April to May and September to October, and you can see more than 20 different species of wading birds in one day. There are mostly ducks and wading birds, but birds of prey such as rough-legged buzzards, peregrine falcons, merlins and marsh harriers migrate also roost here. Among breeding wading birds on Rømø, you can see oystercatchers, lapwings, redshanks and whimbrels. Extra protection is provided for the rare Kentish plover and little tern, which have their breeding grounds fenced off from 1 May to 15 August.

The little tern is about 24cm long and it is the world’s smallest tern - only half the size of the Arctic tern. You can recognise it by its white forehead and yellow beak with a black tip. The number of little terns has dropped in Denmark, and most of the little terns breed in the Wadden Sea area on Fanø and Rømø, where they nest in colonies on the beach.

Whimbrels are also called curlews. The largest wading bird in Denmark is the size of a crow, and it is recognised by its long, curled beak, which is quick to find lugworms and pull them up whole. In the spring morning hours it sings melodically across the heaths, meadows and sand dunes. It builds its nest directly on the ground in heath areas, preferably near meadows and pastures. It breeds on Fanø and particularly on Rømø.

Sandpipers (dunlin and knots) are one of Wadden Sea’s long-distance-birds. The knot, which breeds in Siberia and Greenland, migrates to western European coasts, whereas the dunlin flies all the way to West Africa. When they land in the Wadden Sea in April, May and June they are so exhausted that they need to double their weight before heading north to Siberia and Greenland. Already at the end of July and August they return to warmer skies.

The bar-tailed godwit often flies 4,000km nonstop in 48½ hours on its journey from West Africa to the Wadden Sea, where it “refuels”. The “fuel” consists of bristle worms, mussels and other benthic animals adding fat underneath the birds’ feathers for the remainder of their journey to Siberia and northern Scandinavia. They travel north in April to May and return south in August to September. The bar-tailed godwit is a wading bird, recognisable on account of its long, dark, slightly upward-curving beak and a light wedge on the back and a striped tail. The male in summer plumage is copper-red on the underside, while the female is greyish with a striped chest.

Redshank is one the most prevalent wading birds in the Wadden Sea area and it is seen all year round on Rømø. The greyish brown bird is recognised on its red-black beak and entirely red legs. With the white wedge on its back and white trailing edges to its wings, it is easily spotted when flying.

Oystercatcher is one of the most common breeding birds in the Wadden Sea, and it is particularly easy to spot the black and white bird on the coastal meadows of Rømø. The oystercatcher lives on worms from meadows and fields during the breeding season, and for the rest of the year they live on mussels which they open by hacking them into pieces with their beaks. Oystercatchers can eat up to 300 mussels a day.

A wealth of rare birds are regularly observed on the island. So bring your binoculars and watch out for white-tailed eagle, gull-billed tern or other species visiting Rømø.

Beach animals

The conch is probably the most exotic snail shell found on the beaches of the North Sea. Even though the red whelk and the common whelk are not one of the largest conches, their twisted snail shells can still be about 10cm long. Conch snails eat carcasses and mussels. They eat the latter by shooting their tongue between the mussel shells and sucking out the soft parts of the mussel. The females lay their eggs in huge clumps which can contain 300,000 larvae.

The heart urchin is a sea urchin which lives buried in the sandy bottom of the North Sea, where it feeds on organic material. Their shells wash onto the beaches of Skallingen, Fanø, Mandø and Rømø, but it may be difficult to find a complete specimen with its spiky “coat”. 

The shore crab is found in abundance in the Wadden Sea during summer. It is almost omnivorous and has even been seen to eat other crabs. It has ten legs, of which two are claws used to defend itself. It is often missing some of its eight other legs as it walks sideways. This is because they often fight and bite off each others' legs. The legs will grow back again when the crabs change their shell 5-10 times a year in the first couple of years of their lifetime.

The American razor shell is found in ever greater numbers in the Wadden Sea, migrating from the American east coast. The razor shell first emerged on Rømø and has since spread throughout Denmark. It lives in slightly deeper water down to 10m in depth, but can also be found in the sandy bottom during low tides with easterly winds.

Common mussels often live in small and large banks, where they feed on algae and organic material by opening their shells at high tide. The black and blue mussel can grow up to 10cm long and it spends its entire 10-15-year life attached to the same place with its thin threats. That's if it’s lucky, otherwise it will end up as food for starfish, crabs, snails, fish and birds.

The cockle can be up to 5cm and it has a fan-shaped shell when found on the beach. Live cockles are joined together in two shells forming a heart-shape when viewed from the side. They live a couple of centimetres under the sand and they bury themselves by shooting a foot out from underneath their shell. The cockle sucks in water through its trachea, filtering for algae and sending it out again through another trachea. Despite its thick shell, a hungry oystercatcher can easily crack its shell.

Pacific oysters have been found in the Wadden Sea in ever greater numbers since the mid-1990s. The pacific oyster normally lives in Japan, but came to the Wadden Sea via Dutch oyster growers who did not think it could breed this far north. However, it can, and behind the up to 9cm-long, rifled, uneven shells it can filter plankton from 80 litres of water in 24 hours. This means that toxic products can build up in the shellfish during summer. Birds have yet to learn how to open the oysters, and there are fears that the original population of common mussels will retreat because of the growing numbers of oysters.


Rømø has many insects, and dragonflies and butterflies are particularly attractive. Butterflies thrive in the heather and in the hollows of the heath, where it is possible to see the satyrid and the rare copper blue butterfly which exclusively lay their eggs on marsh gentian. In more shadowy places, another little blue butterfly can be spotted - the forest holly blue. Here you can also see the humming-bird hawk moth, the meadow brown, the small tortoiseshell and the broad-nosed eel. In the sand dunes you can spot the satyrid which is mostly found along paths and in breaches of sand dunes, because these are the warmest spots as they have no vegetation.

The copper blue butterfly (Phengaris alcon)

The copper blue butterfly is a rare butterfly in Denmark, but it is quite widespread on Fanø and Rømø. The butterfly sucks nectar from bell heather and lays its eggs on the marsh gentian plant. The caterpillar lives its first 2-3 weeks in the gentian bud, after which it drops to the ground where it is adopted by a specific species of ants. The ants take the larva down to the anthill where they feed it all through winter. In return, the larva excretes a sweet secretion which is eaten by the ants. The beautiful blue butterfly is therefore entirely dependent on areas with large populations of bell heather and marsh gentian.


Mountains in the Wadden Sea

You will only rarely climb as many mountains as on your trip to Fanø, Rømø and Skallingen: Kikkebjerg, Pælebjerg, Høstbjerg, Stagebjerg, Spidsbjerg, Dødemandsbjerg and many more. The highest of these mountains is 21 metres. Western Jutlanders are not exactly known for their big words or for bragging, but when it comes to naming a few hills, they're not afraid to call them mountains. Everything is relative in the flat country of Denmark, and even though you don’t get altitude sickness from climbing the mountains, you will be dizzy at the astonishing view. This is countryside with big skies.

Sand dunes on Rømø

Rømø is merely long-shore bar in the sea. However, despite this, a relatively varied and rich plant life has emerged. How this can happen is easy to see on the island, as it is an ongoing process in which Rømø is growing further and further out into the North Sea.

The North Sea is constantly pushing ever more sand up onto the beach. The sand dries. The wind takes the sand and blows it into piles - in small dunes - which are formed behind small obstacles of washed up seaweed, little rocks etc. There is shelter here. And here vegetation gains its footing.

The youngest sand dunes lie furthest to the west. The youngest one, which is called “the white sand dune” is almost without plant life, apart from lyme grass and marram grass. After this is “the green sand dune” with its tight fur of marram grass and herbs such as wild thyme, Lady’s bedstram, field pansy, maiden pink, and caryophyllaceae.

Further towards the east is “the grey sand dune”, with open breaches in the dune summits featuring many species of larvae and mosses, as well as herbs such as sheep’s fescue, waxy hair grass, sand sedge, sheepsbit scabious, field pansy and common cat’s ear.

The natural end to “the grey sand dune” has the oldest parts of Rømø: the dune heath with stunted bushes such as heather and crowberry. Furthest to the east are farmlands and marshlands out towards the Wadden Sea.

Natural windbreaks

Species of grass such as marram grass and lyme grass quell the drifting of sand by creating windbreaks. Both species of grass endure and even require periodical sand cover. They sort of grow with the sand dune.

Marram grass: This could be called the king of the sand dunes, with its one-metre-long roots and straw growing up to one-and-a-half metres high, marram grass holds the sand dunes together. The leaves are grey-green and involuted, which means that they are a little sharp if you walk across the dunes in bare feet. They always grow in clumps. Marram grass blooms in June, July and August, and the flowers are tufty spikelets.

Lyme grass: Lyme grass is a strong species of grass which can grow up to 1½m-high blue-green straws. But unlike marram grass, lyme grass does not grow in clumps and the leaves are wide and outfolded. Lyme grass has up to 30cm-long spikes and blooms in June to September.

The dune heath on Rømø

The heather lays a gorgeous blanket which can be experienced in the dune heaths of Rømø, almost like 100 years ago. The heath is a unique landscape where tough plants such as heather and small bushes have adapted to the rough climate and nutrient-poor sandy soil. Actually, the dune heaths on Rømø are part of a continuous, Atlantic dune heath stretching from Norway in a long band along the coast all the way to Spain. The dune heaths have emerged entirely naturally, whereas the heaths further into Jutland are the result of forest felling and soil depletion. The dune heath is a development phase in the westward growth of both Rømø and Fanø. The rows of sand dunes furthest away still enjoy the limestone left behind by mussels, whereas over time the limestone and the nutrients in the oldest sand dunes in the middle of the island have been washed away by the rain.

However, the dune heath is also a landscape threatened by overgrowing and addition of nutrients. Central government plantation projects from the 1920s in particular added many types of tree not naturally grown on Rømø and which have spread all over the dune heaths. The Danish Nature Agency is aware of the problem and is working on nature restoration projects which remove new trees from the dune heaths and raise the water levels to encourage bogs and small lakes.

Heather is an extremely bifurcated and up to 50cm-high bush which grows on the driest places of the heath. Bell heather only grows up to 25 cm high and on the moistest parts of the heath. The heather blooms in August and September with small, violet flowers. On the bell heather these flowers are bell-shaped. Heather can be up to 30 years old. One heather plant can produce 150,000 seeds in a single year and the seeds can lie dormant for up to 70 years. In the old days, heather was used for brooms, firewood, bedboards, stuffing for beds, roofing, insulation in mud walls, litter for livestock, winter feed and tea (against rheumatism and diseases of the bladder and kidneys).


The Rømø plantations

Until the mid-1920s Rømø had practically no trees. Rømø was one of the last places to plant forests in Denmark, not least because Rømø was German in the period from 1864 until the Reunification with Denmark in 1920.

The plantation work began in the 1920s, when the central government purchased the land and planted mountain pine, Scotch pine and Austrian pine in the three plantations, Tvismark, Kirkeby and Vråby. The purpose was to prevent sand drift and to create shelter for the farmland, but it was also to provide fuel and jobs for the islanders. The problem with sand drift dates back to the 1600-1700s, when there was a tradition on the island to let the sheep and cattle graze freely on heaths and dunes which meant that the sparse vegetation was eaten. Back then the sand drift was curbed by digging down rows with pine twigs to catch the sand.

Today, there is about 4km2 of forest on Rømø, and the old pine trees are being thinned out and instead oak and birch are being planted to create a more varied forest for the benefit of tourists and the permanent residents. At the same time, many trees are being felled which spread on the dune heath in beautiful, wavy dune formations.