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The teams gather as the tally takes place at the Estonian Open bird race. Photo: Estonian Nature Tours.
The teams gather as the tally takes place at the Estonian Open bird race. Photo: Estonian Nature Tours.Enlarge image

Estonian bird race breaks record

Posted on: 29 Aug 2014

The Estonian Open bird race – which takes place every August – has almost certainly broken the European record for the month, with a team logging 167 species in 14 hours.

Fittingly, this year was the 20th annivessary of the international bird race, with teams from Finland and Latvia also taking part. An impressive 23 teams with 95 participants joined the birding event.

The race itself started at 3 am, with every team having precisely 14 hours to accumulate the biggest bird list. As is traditional in most bird races, to gain a tick more than a half the team members need to see or hear a species.

Because of the anniversary, this year the race area encompassed the whole of Estonia. The winning team 'Spithman' (including two Estonian Nature Tours bird guides Margus Ellermaa and Tarvo Valker) chose Läänemaa county as their area. The mixed team included three Finns, and put the secret of their success down to birding skills and an excellent knowledge of thelr local patch, plus running at many sites, to avoid losing valuable time. Two owl species were ticked within the first five minutes, and by midday the team list was already nearly 150 species!

Lesser Spotted Eagle was the second from last species to be added to the race's total. Photo: Chinmayisk (

Even during the last half a hour, the winning team managed to tick two more species – Lesser Spotted Eagle and then – just 10 minutes before the end – they added Turtle Dove to the list. The team result of 167 species beat the previous record total by 15 species. The team beleive that this is almost certianly a European record for the month of August at least.

The second-placed team had 152 species, so it turned out to be biggest margin of victory between two teams ever. If you consider that birds in August are not vocal and it wasn't even a 24-hour race, it is and amazing result, emphasising the birding potential of the country.

The total number of species by all the teams was a cracking 206, and included such choice birds as  Caspian Gull, Red-necked Phalarope, Ortolan Bunting, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Penduline Tit, Parrot Crossbill and Greater Spotted Eagle.

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