Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A(H5N8) viruses that emerged in poultry in east Asia since 2010 spread to Europe and North America by late 2014. Despite detections in migrating birds, the role of free-living wild birds in the global dispersal of H5N8 virus is unclear. Here, wild bird sampling activities in response to the H5N8 virus outbreaks in poultry in the Netherlands are summarised along with a review on ring recoveries. HPAI H5N8 virus was detected exclusively in two samples from ducks of the Eurasian wigeon species, among 4,018 birds sampled within a three months period from mid-November 2014. The H5N8 viruses isolated from wild birds in the Netherlands were genetically closely related to and had the same gene constellation as H5N8 viruses detected elsewhere in Europe, in Asia and in North America, suggesting a common origin. Ring recoveries of migratory duck species from which H5N8 viruses have been isolated overall provide evidence for indirect migratory connections between East Asia and Western Europe and between East Asia and North America. This study is useful for better understanding the role of wild birds in the global epidemiology of H5N8 viruses. The need for sampling large numbers of wild birds for the detection of H5N8 virus and H5N8-virus-specific antibodies in a variety of species globally is highlighted, with specific emphasis in north-eastern Europe, Russia and northern China.