TOP 5 bear watching tips

Source: Maksim Nikiforov

TOP 5 bear watching tips

Estonia is home to a population of approximately 700 brown bears and has the highest brown bear population density in Europe. Learn when, where and how to spot these majestic mammals. 

More than half of these majestic and shy creatures live in a taiga forest called Alutaguse in the northeastern region. Tourists have the unique opportunity to spot them on bear watching tours. This list of bear watching tips is curated together with wildlife tour provider NaTourEst and bear expert Peep Rooks. 

Brown bear watching season

The best times of year to spot the Estonian brown bar in its natural habitat are from the end of April to mid-July and mid-August to the end of October. In spring and summer, bears awake from winter hibernation, females give birth and visitors have the chance to spot mothers with up to four newborn cubs, something very rare for any other type of bears. This is during the famous 'White Nights' of Estonia, when it is easier to spot these mammals in the wild even at night, thanks to long daylight hours.

Autumn in Estonia is an abundant season, when wild berries become ripe and bears have plenty to feed upon in preparation for winter hibernation. They wander less and become more sedentary, making it easier to spot them in the wild.

Eurasian brown bear

One of around 700 brown bears in the forests of Estonia.

Photo by: Jürgen Voolaid

1. Keep noise to a minimum

Bears are very shy animals and are afraid of human encounters. The louder the group, the less likely a bear is to approach.

2. Look for signs

Bears often rub, bite or scrape trees as a way of marking their territory and leave carcasses after feeding on them. If you see any of these signs, a bear must be not too far away.

3. Watch for tracks

The width of a bear's step varies widely. On hard terrain, a bear usually walks with narrow steps. On soft and sinking terrain—such as deep snow—the bear walks with its legs clearly spread and places its front and hind legs in the same tracks.

4. Be patient and wait

Being shy animals, the best way to spot a bear is by waiting patiently from a purposely-built watching hide. They won't see you, but you will see them.

5. Always be ready

Have your camera turned on, with the correct settings and your lens cap off at all times. You never know when a bear will show up.

The bear's forest neighbours

Raccoon dogs are just one of many species you might see while bear watching. 

Photo by: Jürgen Voolaid

Guided nature tours

A mere two-hour drive from Tallinn, two watching hides deep within Alutaguse await nature lovers wishing to spend a couple of days in the wilderness. NaTourEst's specialised guides take participants on a hike in the forest to spot bear tracks while giving information about the local flora and fauna. Other endemic animals such as raccoon dogs, elk, otters, roe deer and red foxes can also be spotted. 

After sunset, the group retires in the watching hide and the guide scatters some food outside to attract the bears. The hide offers simple, yet comfortable and cosy accommodation, featuring private cabins fitted with bunk beds and a separate bathroom. Binoculars and sleeping bags are also provided.

Last updated : 22.04.2021

In category: North Estonia, Nature & Wildlife