Steller’s Eider, Owls and Woodpeckers – Scheduled Tour

6 Days

In winter and early spring, Estonian waters host about 600-1000 Steller’s Eider and offer the best possibilities in Europe to spot them. In Early spring they come closer to shore and are easier to see. At the same time woodpeckers, owls, and forest grouses are getting more and more active. For Western CapercaillieBlack Grouse, and Hazel Hen the lekking period is just starting and they are more visible. Owls have started hooting to declare their territories and woodpeckers (7 woodpecker species are possible during the tour!) are drumming. This guided nature tour targets all the aforementioned species and more in the period of just 6 days.

If you wish to look for these species on your own in your own tempo, then try the Smart-Guided Steller’s Eider Weekend Tour.


The ice-free waters of the Baltic Sea are also a good location for several arctic breeders, such as Long-tailed Ducks, Smew, Bewick Swans, Whooper Swans, Greater Scaup, Goldeneyes, Common and Velvet Scoters, Goosander, and Red-breasted Merganser among others. White-tailed Eagles patrol the coastlines and can even be seen dozens of kilometers inland during the winter. It’s also a great time to spot Snow Buntings, Common Redpolls and during some years also Arctic Redpolls. What else makes Estonia stand out is the distance between varying habitats, it takes just 10 minutes to drive from one of the best migration hotspots in Europe to an old-growth pine forest, where Western Capercaillie and Hazel Grouse can be spotted. Such forests are also home to several owl species, such as Pygmy Owl, Ural Owl, and Tengmalm’s Owl. Although this trip is mostly about birds, we have good chances of spotting Elk, Roe Deer, Raccoon Dogs, Red Fox, Fish Otter, and Snow Hare. First Brown Bears wake from winter hibernation in mid-March and their tracks can be found in the snow together with Wolf and Lynx tracks. With lots of luck, we might even cross our paths with one of the aforementioned mammals during our early morning or late evening excursions. Every year there’s also the possibility to spot Rough-legged Buzzards, Waxwings, and during some good influx years, the Northern Hawk Owl. This trip is not so much about seeing as many different species as possible, rather about getting excellent views of our target birds.

What can you see?

  • Steller’s Eiders and lots of other seaducks, such as Long-tailed Ducks, Velvet Scoters, Common Scoters
  • White-backed, Grey-headed, Three-toed, Middle-spotted, and Black Woodpeckers
  • Ural, Pygmy and Tengmalm’s Owls and Northern Hawk Owl during some years
  • Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse and lekking Black Grouse
  • White-tailed Eagles, Rough.legged Buzzard, Hen Harrier
  • Waxwing, Parrot-and Common Crossbill, Snowbunting, Twite, Common and Arctic Redpoll


After arriving at Tallinn International airport, you’ll be picked up by ou guide with a minibus and start driving towards Saaremaa island. The transfer, together with a ferry ride, takes about 4 hours and we will do some birding already on the way to our accommodation. Roadsides may produce views of Rough-legged Bussards and Great Grey Shrikes. On the ferry and after reaching the island of Muhu, we get our first good views of the Baltic Sea. Whooper Swans, Smew and White-tailed Eagles are usually present in good numbers. Depending on the time of arrival, we’ll already go looking for our first target bird, which is Europe’s smallest owl species – Pygmy Owl. Our accommodation is an old manor house situated in Vilsandi National Park and we will stay there for 2 nights.

Before breakfast, we can have another shot at spotting the Pygmy Owl. The forests of Viidumäe may also produce views of Black Woodpecker, Nutcracker, and northern subspecies of Nuthatch (Sitta europaea europaea).   Saaremaa is also warmer than the mainland, so might come across Mistle Thrushes, Fieldfares, and even European Skylarks. After breakfast, we go looking for the Steller’s Eider in the northeastern part of Saaremaa. We might find the Steller’s Eider quickly or it might take us the whole day. Besides the Steller’s Eiders, we can spot other overwintering waterbirds, such as Smew, Long-tailed Ducks, Velvet Scoters, Common Scoters, Goosanders, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Eiders, Greater Scaup, and Tufted Ducks. White-tailed Eagles are often seen patrolling the coastline and Waxwings look for food in the Juniper stands. Saaremaa is also a great place to spot Common and Parrot Crossbills. In the evening, we can look again for the Pygmy Owl, and after the sunset look for the Tengmalm’s Owl. Night in Saaremaa

In the morning, we start driving back to the mainland. After the ferry ride, we go to Puhtu-Laelatu wooded meadows, to look for various woodpeckers. Our main target here will be the White-backed Woodpecker, who is an annual breeder in these deciduous forests. There we can also spot Black Woodpeckers, Middle-Spotted Woodpeckers, and Grey-Headed Woodpeckers. From there we take the course to Marimetsa forests, where we will target Three-Toed Woodpeckers and Hazel Grouse. Before the evening, we’ll settle in our new accommodation in the northeastern part of Estonia. The forests around the accommodation are home to Ural Owl, whom we hope to spot around the sunset. Night in NW Estonia

On meadows and fields located between two vast peat bogs, it’s possible to observe a Black Grouse lek, and that will be today’s main event. These fields and meadows are loved by many birds. Rough-Legged bussards are often seen hovering and Golden Eagles come to look for their most loved prey – Black Grouse and Common Hare. We’ll drive there quite early and have good chances of spotting also Western Capercaillie on the way to the spot. If the time is not too late, we still have time to look for Capercaille on another road, where they often come after visiting a lek in the early morning. We’ll also make a stop at Veskijärve area, which is a good place for the Northern Hawk Owl. The latter owl is a day-active owl and usually does not breed in Estonia. In winter they are still annual visitors, especially in the areas along the coast. Unlike the Ural and Pygmy Owl, they prefer open landscapes. Afterward, our trip takes us to one of the best migration observation points in northern Europe – Cape Põõsaspea. In the evening, we’ll again look for owls – Ural Owl and Tengmalm’s Owl. Night in NW Estonia

In the morning, we will look for Western Capercaillie along a road close to our accommodation, before arriving at Cape Põõsaspea to observe waterfowl. There will be Long-tailed Ducks, Goldeneyes, and maybe even divers and Black and Velvet Scoters. The other part of the day we will concentrate on forest species. Leidissoo is a huge forest area situated right next to a bog. All of our target woodpeckers feel at home in this area – Grey-headed Woodpecker, White-Backed Woodpecker, Black Woodpecker, and  Three-Toed Woodpecker. Similarly, it’s home to other forest species, such as the Hazel Grouse, who we hope to hear and see. Other species that were often seen there are Nutcracker, and Goshawk.  In the evening, we will look for the Ural Owl. Night in NW Estonia

Today we still have time to make at least one more excursion to look for species that we haven’t seen yet, or to look for waterbirds in Cape Põõsaspea. If there is time, we can also still make a few stops on the way to Tallinn.

Price includes:

  • Bird guide services for 6 days,
  • 5 nights in local hotels and guesthouses ( twin room with toilet and shower),
  • Local transport,
  • 5*breakfast, 4*lunch packages and 2*dinner.
  • Ferry tickets to Saaremaa.

Price excludes

  • Flights


What is the best time to arrive in Estonia/When will the tour start on the first day?

It would be advisable to arrive in Tallinn during midday or in the afternoon at the latest, so we would have enough time to have some birding stops on the way to the island of Saaremaa.

If I'll arrive a day earlier, will I be picked up from the hotel?

Yes. If you arrive earlier, we can pick you up from your accommodation before the start of the tour.

For what time should I plan my departure flight?

It would be at best if your flight leaves during the afternoon of the last tour day or you can stay for another night. This way, we have enough time to do birding also on the last day. If there are only flights that depart before midday, we can find a solution and organise a private separate transport to the airport.

When should I be at the Tallinn Airport before the departure of my flight?

Tallinn International Airport is a small and convenient airport, so you’ll have enough time at the airport if you arrive 90 minutes before the departure of your flight.

Tour Map

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Steller’s Eider, Owls and Woodpeckers – Scheduled Tour
  • March
  • 4-8 persons
  • Easy walks
  • *Steller’s Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks, Velvet Scoters, Common Scoters *White-backed, Three-toed, Grey-headed, Three-toed, Middle-spotted, and Black Woodpeckers *Ural, Pygmy, Tengmalm’s Owls and Northern Hawk Owl *Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse and lekking Black Grouse *White-tailed Eagles, Rough.legged Buzzard, Hen Harrier *Waxwing, Parrot-and Common Crossbill, Snowbunting, Common and Arctic Redpoll