Matsalu as a bird watching and nature tour destination

Matsalu National Park and its importance in the world

Matsalu National Park was created as a nature preservation area in 1957 in order to protect the natural and cultural heritage of Western-Estonia and Väinameri (part of the Baltic Sea). The national park comprises Matsalu Bay and its surrounding area with its islands; the north and south coast of the bay as well as the Kasari river delta.

Matsalu rahvuspark eesti kaardil

Matsalu Rahvuspark

Matsalu is a unique natural habitat

Matsalu is one of the most important staging areas of arctic waterfowl during their journey, due to its position on the East Atlantic Flyway. During the spring and autumn passage, it is possible to count thousands of Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis). Semi-natural coastal pastures and meadows are suitable for birds for staging and nesting. More than 270 different bird species have been registered in Matsalu.

In addition to birds, the region can be characterized by its herbal- and natural communities, Western-Estonia is also rich for its heritage communities: forest stands, alvars and meadows. Juniper fields, coast and reed are also important here. Broadleaf forest grove is also seen typical for the region. Numerous species of Orchidaceae grow in the foliage meadows, more than 20 different types have been found.

Matsalu has a rich historical layer

Old fishermen shelters and barns are interesting as well. Some of the 19. century barn dwellings have been maintained; old farm places are surrounded by stone walls that have been reconstructed actively in the recent decade. Several churches and manors have remained from the older times; interesting prehistoric findings include old stone burial places and a place of a prehistoric castle.

Matsalu visitor center in Penijõe

There is an official visitors’ centre of the national park, where one can obtain a good overview of the history of the national park as well as bird species that could be found here. Visitors can watch the audiovisual programme on Matsalu and its seasons, and browse through various booklets.

Find out more about Matsalu National Park Visitor Centre

The northern shore of Matsalu Bay

Here are some old fishermen villages Kiideva, Puise and Haeska. Favorite places for birdwatchers are Haeska observation tower, Põgari-Sassi, Puise and Rannajõe.

The Finnish birdwatchers have counted 128 different bird species during one day in Haeska observation tower.

The coastal meadow of Põgari-Sassi is considered one of the best places in Estonia to observe wading birds. Dunlins (Calidris alpina schinzii), Sandpipers (Actitis), Gray Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola), Plovers (Pluvialis apricaria), Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus), Avocet (Recurvirostra) and many others have found this coastal pasture favourable. This is also an important staging area for Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis) during the spring.

The Southern shore of the Matsalu Bay

In addition to the Penijõe visitor center, one can find interesting observation towers here – Suitsu, Keemu and Kloostri – as well as several hiking trails and a coastal area.

Kasari river delta is an important nesting area for Corn Crake (crex crex), Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) and Great Snipe (Gallinago media). The coastal meadows next to Matsalu Bay are an important feeding area for migratory birds and a nesting area for waders (dunlins, plovers, avocet etc). Ducks, geese, swans and stems can be found in the reed at the mouth of the river. One can also hear Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) and Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus). Rare visitors in Matsalu are Dunlins (Calidris alpina schinzii) and White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos). Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) and Greylag Goose (Anser anser) can be considered local nesters.

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Cranes (Guidae) gather here during their autumn journey and stay for a few weeks to eat and prepare for their final flyaway – it is possible to see flock of birds comprising of hundreds of birds. During this period there are thousands of birds on the coastal area, which is their gathering place.

The fields near Matsalu and Meelva are known as the staging area of geese. During the spring passage, tens of thousands of barnacle geese stay here. Among them some red-neck geese and black geese can be seen.

Keemu observation tower offers a view to the Matsalu bay and the coastal meadow. Small coastal islands offer good nesting conditions for ducks, gray geese, sterna and seagulls. Coastal meadows are a favourable staging area for geese, fowlers. Thousands of cranes gather here during autumn.

Suitsu observation tower (21m) is on the left side of the Suitsu river. One can view the wooded meadows from the tower, as well as the reed and coastal meadow. Old fishermen shelters can be seen. During a 1,5h ride in the reed, one can see Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava), black-tailed godwit (limosa limosa), Western Marsh-harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) and eagles. Warblers and bitterns can be heard from the reed. Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) and Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutu) can be observed at the mouth of the Kasari river. In April and May, there are hundreds of Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) and Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus) on the bay.

On the southern shore and not far from the Kodade cottage, there is the Salevere Grove Hill. The sacred hill is characterized by its special species and beautiful nature. There is a hiking trail that is suitable also for the smaller ones (1,5km). The hiking trail is located on a terrace in a grove forest and passes by old fortress remains and mythical spring.

Another important bird observation area is Puhtu-Laelatu nature reserve. The number of birds flying over this area can reach even a million in April-May. The broadleaf grove forest is famous for its ground vegetation and richness of birds.

Additional reading:

List of Estonian song birds and their sounds (by Veljo Runnel)

Animal cameras in Nature (Looduskalender.ee)

Bird Migration Map

Read more about bird watching holidays in Estonia on Visit Estonia