Bird and Wildlife Watching
Finland is full of wildlife. A relatively large country in size, it stretches from the 60th parallel (Helsinki) to the 68th parallel (Utsjoki), crossing the Arctic Circle in southern Lapland. A large size means diverse nature and wildlife. Birds and animals are different in the fells of Lapland compared to the islands and shores of the Coast and Archipelago, or the wilderness areas towards the border to Russia. All regions of Finland offer plenty to see – if you are lucky enough.
Besides regional differences, there is a great variety in wildlife due to the distinctively different four seasons. Some animals hibernate in winter or change to a winter coat. Some birds migrate in and out. In winter, you may not see the animal itself, but it is a lot of fun to identify their prints in the snow. The awakening of nature in spring and stunningly beautiful autumn colours provide a lot to photographers.
As National Parks and other protected areas maintained by Metsähallitus, Parks and Wildlife Finland exist mainly for nature conservation purposes, they provide peaceful nesting and living for a variety of wildlife. Your chances to see birds and other wildlife is usually higher in national parks which also provide silence, serenity and excellent facilities for enjoying nature while trying to spot your favourite species. Use Destination Search to find a suitable destination according to your interests.
Finland is a popular destination for bird enthusiasts. Centuries-old forests, that can be found in several National Parks, are home to many birds of the woods. Owls, woodpeckers, eagles, cranes and woodland grouse species are of special interest for ornithologists from all over the world. Some enthusiasts come to Finland to see Charadriiformes, which live near water, and can be spotted in the coastal areas and archipelago of the Baltic Sea. It can be fascinating to see common waterfowls in their summer plumage. Bird-watching towers are often found near popular birding locations and in the protected areas that are important for the nesting and migrating birds.
The period from February to April is a fascinating time for bird enthusiasts because of the spring migration. At the end of May, hundreds of thousands arctic water birds and waders pass through Gulf of Finland National Park on their way to their nesting places in the north, creating an amazing natural spectacle. Autumn migration starts as early as June. For bird watchers, every month is truly different (finnature.fi).
It is always a good idea to hire a local guide or expert for your bird watching trip to get more out of it. Check the links on the web pages for specific destinations in the Nationalparks.fi website, or search local tourism websites.
While National parks offer a unique experience for watching birds and other wildlife, you should keep your distance to both animals and their nests. Never disturb a bird or other animal. Do not approach their homes, as birds can abandon nests if disturbed or harassed. Simply put, leave birds and other animals alone—no touching, no feeding, no harassing. Many National Parks and other protected areas have restricted areas during the nesting season from April though July. Check locally!
Finland’s abundant wildlife is sometimes difficult to see. Apart from a variety of birds, a hiker may spot deer, hare, squirrels and other small mammals.
Big mammals, such as brown bear (Ursus arctos), elk (Alces alces), lynx (Lynx lynx), wolf (Canis lupus) and wolverine (Gulo gulo) are rarely seen. For example, many people who have spent all their lives outdoors have never encountered a bear in nature! In Finland, bears are not used to people, so they usually run away upon encounter. However, it is good to consider these:
- If you encounter a bear, walk slowly back to the direction you came from. Do not turn your back to the bear. Do not run. Give the bear an easy escape since it is most likely more scared than you.
- If you end up between a mother and its cubs, the situation can get very dangerous. If you come across a bear cub, turn around and walk slowly back to the direction you came from. Use caution.
- If the bear charges and attacks you, play dead. Cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.
- Do not leave food outside. It may lure bear, and most likely small rodents, such as squirrels and mice.
If you really want to see a bear in nature, your best choice is to contact one of the outdoor companies that organize bear-watching activities, mainly in the Kainuu and Koillismaa area close to the eastern border. Since the area is scarcely populated and the big wilderness of Russia is near, bears are more common compared to other parts of the country. Visitor centre Petola in Kuhmo has exhibitions and information on large carnivores in Finland.
Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) are an original species of the northern wilderness and a common sight everywhere in Lapland.
There are only three species of snakes in Finland. Only one species, the common European adder (Vipera berus), is venomous. Adders are not usually aggressive, tending to be biting only when cornered or alarmed.
Photographing in national parks and other protected areas
All national parks are home to sensitive habitats and species. When taking photographs, behave like you are in a natural place and treat the location with the respect it deserves. When chasing after that great photo, follow these guidelines:
- Stay on the trails to avoid trampling and erosion. Take advantage of bird watching towers and other popular viewing spots. Take a look at the map before you go, and stay away from restricted areas.
- If you leave the trail, watch your step for vulnerable plants and wildflowers. A few steps in the wrong area can do a lot damage!
- Do not damage trees, plants or habitats for a better photo.
- Maintain a respectful distance to all animals. Do not harass or chase after them. If an animal feels threatened because of something you’re doing, it might increase the risk of harm to you, too.
- Maintain a fair distance to their nests, too. If a bird leaves its nest, you’re gone too close. Young birds may get separated from their mother when harassed, which can be life-threatening to them. Let birds nest in peace in the nesting period from April though July – it's the law!
- Don’t feed animals.
For safety and ethical reasons, you should also consider these when photographing in national parks:
- Keep away from cliffs.
- Use caution in slippery places.
- Do not harass other people with your camera. If you take a photo of a child, make sure you ask parents first. Be considerate!
- Do not photograph (or publish photos of) anything that is against the instructions of national parks or what Everyman’s Right says about your responsibilities and rights. In other words, do not photograph illegal fires, dogs running off-leash, people in risky activities without safety gear on etc. Publishing of such photos may encourage photo viewers to engage in same kind of activities.
- Flying drones
Good to know & Safety
Familiarize yourself with Everyman’s Right, i.e. the responsibilities and rights you have when moving about in Finnish nature. They apply to both Finnish and foreign citizens.
Special equipment is not necessarily needed when bird or wildlife watching. However, binocular or a field guide to birds and animals can be useful. In a hot and sunny weather, carry plenty of water, stay hydrated, and cover your head. Dress according to weather.
Never approach wildlife. Remember that National parks and other protected areas exist mainly for nature conservation reasons, offering birds and wildlife a safe place to live. Keeping your distance to wildlife is also a matter of safety.
Protect yourself from mosquito bites. Mosquitoes do not spread diseases in Finland, so you do not need a vaccine against them. However, mosquito bites can irritate your skin when your body is not used to them. One of the best ways to keep mosquitoes from biting you is to simply cover your skin. Wear loose, long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Carrying mosquito repellent is a good idea, too.
Tick bites can be dangerous. Ticks are found especially in the Åland Islands, the Coast and Archipelago, Southern and Central Finland. Ticks live in tall grass and shrubbery, so wearing long sleeves and hiking in the centre of the trail are strongly recommended to reduce contact with ticks. Carry a tick remover and check yourself daily when hiking in a tick-infested area. Stay on trail to avoid tick bites.
Help us to prevent forest fires and grass fires. In Finland, a fire warning is given when the risk of quickly spreading forest fire or grass fire is high. Don’t build a campfire when there’s a fire warning in effect. It is your responsibility to be aware of warnings in effect. For up-to-date warnings of storms and forest fire hazards, see the website of the Finnish Meteorological Institute (en.ilmatieteenlaitos.fi).
Emergency number in Finland is 112. You can call 112 from a foreign mobile phone connection, too. Consider downloading the 112 Suomi application beforehand. It enables the automatic delivery of your coordinates to the emergency service dispatcher when dialing 112.