Migratory birds and the Matsalu Nature Reserve

Estonia is an important roosting area for migratory waterfowl. The majority of waterfowl breeding in Arctic tundras fly along the Baltic Sea coasts during their spring and autumn migration, preferring the southern coast of the sea. Every spring and autumn hundreds of thousands of transmigrant geese, swans, ducks and waders stop on the coasts of West Estonia and the islands.

The Matsalu Nature Reserve is the best known among the coastal wetlands of Estonia, being also one of the largest breeding and roosting sites of migratory waterfowl in Europe. The Matsalu wetland was already listed as a wetland of international importance under the International Convention on the Protection of Wetlands (the Ramsar Convention) during the Soviet time. At present, 10 Ramsar sites have been identified and approved in Estonia and about as many are likely to be added in the near future. The Matsalu Nature Reserve covers a 476.4-km² land and water area encompassing Matsalu Bay along with the delta of the Kasari River and the surrounding communities — floodplain and coastal meadows, reedbeds and woodlands, and also a part of the Väinameri Sea bordering the bay, including its more than 40 islands.

Several rivers run into Matsalu Bay, the biggest of these being the Kasari River. The rivers carry large quantities of nutrient-rich sediments into the bay from an over 3500-km² catchment area. The sediments are deposited in river estuaries, allowing reedbeds to expand rapidly towards the sea.

A total of 270 bird species has been recorded in the Matsalu Nature Reserve, among which 175 are nesters and 33 transmigrant waterfowl. Every spring over 2 million waterfowl pass Matsalu, including 10 000–20 000 Bewick’s swans, 10 000 scaups and goldeneyes and abundant tufted ducks, goosanders, etc. A colony of up to 20 000 barnacle geese, over 10 000 greylag geese and thousands of waders stop on the coastal pastures in spring. The most numerous birds of passage (up to 1.6 million) are long-tailed ducks, part of which stop on the Väinameri Sea. Approximately 35 000–40 000 ducks feed in the reedbeds in spring. In autumn, about 300 000 specimens of migratory waterfowl pass Matsalu. The wetland is known as the biggest autumn stopping ground of common cranes in Europe. The maximum recorded number of cranes has been 21 000 specimens.

The Matsalu wetland is also an important breeding and rearing ground for the fish of the Väinameri Sea. Numerous pikes, roaches, ides and breams come to spawn in the floodplains and old riverbeds of Matsalu. However, due to the eutrophication of Matsalu Bay and the rivers, the fish fauna has become noticeably impoverished during the last century.

Details about this article