Birdwatching in Romania – a Danube Delta experience


I love the Danube Delta!

I may be biased as it is my home, the place where I was born and where I now run a business, but I believe these are also the things that make me love it more and more each day.

Living here in Mahmudia, on the banks of the Danube River and at the gateway to the Delta, as a child it was nothing special. It was just home, I couldn’t appreciate it in it’s entirety. 

When I was 8 my family decided to leave Mahmudia for Constanta, a city on the shores of the Black Sea about 2 hours’ drive away. It was the second largest city in Romania at the time, if I remember correctly, so naturally it had more to offer than a small commune. My parents wanted a better life for us and the chance to have access to everything a big city has to offer. So, growing up I discovered “civilisation”, living life on the fast track, and then as an adult, I got a taste of corporate life and slowly started being swallowed whole by it.  

After 26 years I decided that, for my 2 boys, my wife and myself, it’s better to leave all that behind and go back to my roots.

Having come back to my childhood village, I now see things from a different perspective. There’s more to it than just remembering what I thought I had left behind. I realised that I have yet to learn and discover an entire world that I was unaware of before. I have to learn from scratch. 

To be honest, in the beginning, while starting to learn how to develop a tourism business and trying to make a living, I made a few mistakes and I fell into the trap of “mass tourism”.

Running a tourism business with people who come to the Danube Delta because it is a „trend”, is difficult and unpleasant. During regular tours I didn’t have time to discover. It was like a monologue to pass the time. “Pelicans, pelicans, pelicans” – they are the symbol of the Danube Delta and I don’t want to make them seem less than they are, but there are many other wonderful, interesting birds here.

I am grateful that I had the chance to meet people who inspired me, not many to start with, but now more and more.

I learnt the major difference between the dullness of a tour with people that don’t understand and don’t care about the true beauty of nature and the beauty of a tour with nature lovers.

When I finally had the chance to present the Danube Delta to people who love and study nature, I discovered the wonderful experience of birdwatching or birding for myself (though I am still unsure of what the difference is between the too – still a lot to learn).

I finally truly “saw” one tiny beautiful bird: the Kingfisher. Now that I’ve learnt about it, it seems to be everywhere. Such a spectacular take off! Until recently I hadn’t had the chance to see with my own eyes how it hunts, but I now look forward to meeting it every time I take a tour. 

I was genuinely impressed by the magnificent White-tailed Eagle, surveying the sky like a guardian.

As bird-lovers you may well know about the widespread family of Herons: the Grey Heron, the Night Heron, the Purple Heron etc. For me, discovering them, was a clue about how poor my knowledge of birds was and how much I still have to learn.

The Cormorants for example, I knew as „those ugly black birds which destroy the fish and the nice trees”. I came to see that they may not be “the saints” of birds, but if you take a closer look at them, they are more than interesting. I now admire them in that strange position in which they dry up their feathers.

The Little Egret, the White Egret, the White stork - they were one and the same for me 3 or 4 years ago.

Can you tell the difference between Sterna hirundo and Chlidonias hybrida? I still can’t.

All this new information or, better yet, the realisation that there were mountains of knowledge I was missing, made me seek help.

One of the people who inspired me and became a close partner, gave me a book: „Collins Bird Guide: The most complete guide to the birds of Britain and Europe” by Lars Svensson and I recommend this book to anyone who wants to find detailed information about birds.

From then on, I began to develop my tours with this book in hand. Again, I slowly started to realise the multitude of things I had ignored or hadn’t observed. Being a guide seemed harder and harder. It is indeed hard, as much as it is rewarding.

I initially said that I would only organise birdwatching tours once I am “well prepared”. 

Well, let me tell you: after 3 years of being in nature, with the many guidebooks I have studied and with all the information I’ve learnt from others, I now understand that I will never cease to learn and to discover. I will continue to do this for the rest of my life and I now realise that my best teachers will most likely be my guests.

For all of you who had the patience to read my article, I am leaving you with only a few details that may raise your curiosity and thirst for knowledge about the wonderful Danube Delta. 

It is the most well-preserved delta in Europe, and it is regarded as one of the largest wetlands (2861 sqm) and the most extensive areas of compact reed beds in the world.

With more than 330 species of birds (it is estimated that around 170 are hatching species), the Danube Delta is home to 98% of Europe’s aquatic fauna. 12 species are protected by law, having been declared „natural monuments”, because they are endangered.

Some of the birds you can admire here are: Kingfisher, White-tailed eagle, Grey Heron, Night Heron, Purple Heron, White Egret, Little Egret, White Pelican, Dalmatian Pelican, Gulls, Mute Swan, Great and little Cormorant, Mallards, Spoonbill, Glossy ibis, Goose, Pheasant, as well as many more.

The migratory species are guests in the winter and passing through during spring and autumn. According to the geographical origin, birds belong to the following types: European, Mediterranean, Siberian, Mongolian, Chinese and Artic.

Migration takes place in the South-North direction during spring and the North-South in the autumn.

So, if the weather is fine, you can enjoy birdwatching all year long. The cold is not the problem, but the frost is, as this makes access to the channels and lakes difficult.

I hope that I was able to entice you to look up more information about the Danube Delta.

Perhaps it will become one of your favorite birdwatching places.

Andrei Prodan

P.S. I would like to thank two dear people:

Musat Constantin – a lover of this place, the one who taught me a lot about being a guide, and who scolded me for the rubbish left behind by some of my guests 😊


Adrian Nasturica – a true professional photographer, with whom I’ve discovered my love for birdwatching and wildlife photography, a man with courage and confidence.