Hundreds of kinds of plants and animals live in the Rhineland. The countries in the catchment area cooperate to protect nature.


We start with the tiniest plants and animals.

The water in the Rhine is home to countless plants and animals that are so small they can only be seen through a microscope. We call them ‘plankton’. Plankton is very important for nature, as it is food for a large number of species.

Typical dratom from the Rhine (strongly magnified) Photo: D. Heudre

Typical dratom from the Rhine (strongly magnified) Photo: D. Heudre

Riverbed creatures

Many tiny animals, such as crustaceans, leeches, insects, worms, mussels and snails live in and on the bed of the Rhine. These are called riverbed invertebrates. If you look very closely you can just about see them without a microscope.

Around 300 different species live in the the Rhine.

Basket clam Photo: Grabow, BFG

Basket clam Photo: Grabow, BFG

River Nerite Photo J. Fischer

River Nerite Photo J. Fischer


There are more than forty species of water birds in the Rhineland. Some of them remain all year round, and we call them resident birds. Others use the Rhine for a short time to rest or overwinter. These are migrating birds, such as cranes which follow the Rhine during their migration.

Very common species are the white-fronted goose, wild duck, tufted duck, and coot. Some birds eat minuscule creatures that live in the water, while others eat grass growing along the river.

Of course, there are some birds that eat fish, but these are a bit less common. The two main ones are grebe and cormorant.

Water birds are not the only types of birds that live near the Rhine. You can also see songbirds and predatory birds like the black kite.


Between 60 and 70 different kinds of fish live in the Rhine. Salmon and sea trout are two examples, but there are also less well known types such as goby, alice shad and houting.

Some fish are very picky. They live only in water that is not too warm or too salty. This is why some fish are found only in small parts of the Rhine or a tributary. Species that are less picky are most often found in the Rhine. They include roach, bream and perch.

Some species of fish are migratory. They spend part of their lives in the river and part at sea. They swim against the current of the Rhine, covering huge distances. Migratory fish are restricted in their movements because people have built locks and weirs on the Rhine. Fish ladders and fish corridors have been built to help them, so that they can travel in search of a mate.

Read more about migratory fish.