Who would want to go looking for nature in Finland in Winter?
It may not be obvious from a distance (eg a warmer country), but Finland isn’t just for skiers in winter.
According to the Lonely Planet guide (1996) Finland in January is cold dark and depressing everywhere. The Kaamos (polar night) in Lapland may be of interest if you don’t want to see the sun at all (the sun never rises above the horizon at this time). There is plenty of snow for skiing but perhaps not enough daylight.
As a non-skier, the only thing that appealed to me was the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights – the Aurora borealis. But is Finland really so bad in winter? Helsinki, in the south, is on roughly the same latitude as Shetland (an island group off the north of Scotland, for the uninitiated), so perhaps not all doom and gloom.
According to the Finnature website, the cold, short January days may appear rather bird-less in Finland but appearances can be deceiving. Although few birds are usually seen, many interesting species can still be found, even in the town centres.
Finland can be a place of extremes – 24 hours of winter night and 24 hours of summer day above the Arctic Circle. Freezing winter weather, and hot muggy summers plagued by mosquitoes and other biting insects. Years of abundant fruit production and small mammals, other years of apparently very little.
Finland in winter can be unpredictable. The bears go into hibernation to avoid problems with food supply. Reindeer avoid moving to conserve energy. Birds migrate to wherever they can find food – whether to the nearest town, or to the southern hemisphere. So, what is still there to watch?
Towns are probably the best places to see birds. If there are berries left on rowan (mountain ash) Sorbus aucuparia trees, birds will flock to them. Likewise, if people are feeding birds – and there are more people in towns, so more likelihood of feeders – that’s where the birds will be. Thrushes, waxwings, pine grosbreaks, common, two-barred and parrot crossbills, Siberian jays, Siberian and crested tits, Arctic redpolls, etc. Willow grouse frequent roadsides, while hazel grouse call within forests. Snowy and hawk owls can be seen – all more easily in some years than in others.
Luxury bird photography
Just below the Arctic Circle, Kuusamo has a little more daylight in January – enough for photographing wintery landscapes of snow-covered forests and lakes. Finnature have heated hides where you can photograph golden eagles, Siberian jays and Siberian tits in comfort.
South-west of Kuusamo, Finnature have another heated hide at Utajärvi, where the main focus is on golden eagles – up to ten visit the hide daily.
And if you really want to make the most of it – Finnature have yet another hide. At the forest feeder hide in Liminka it is possible to photograph Goshawk, Nutcracker, Crested Tit, Bullfinch, Yellowhammer etc. And with the help of locals, you could also see great grey and hawk owls hunting.
This western side of Finland is also the best place to see snowy owls. They are not easy to find, despite often perching on the roofs of barns. Probably the best way to find them is to contact local birdwatchers who may have located one or two in their New Year’s bird hunt.
Ranua Wildlife Park
Personally, I am not a great fan of keeping wild animals in enclosures. However, if such a place offers people the opportunity to encounter native wildlife in a safe place – especially for children and less mobile people – then the Ranua Wildlife Park has reason to exist. And it has good ratings on Trip-Advisor.
Ranua sits in the triangle between Oulu, Kuusamo and Rovaniemi, and is easily accessed by bus from Rovaniemi. So, if you’ve been to Santaland at Rovaniemi, this is a convenient day trip to see local wildlife – 200 individuals of 70 or so species, though some may be in hibernation at this time of year.
There is much less snow in the south-west, and the sea is usually free of ice. Thousands of waterfowl spend the winter here, with Steller’s eider, long-tailed ducks, cormorants, etc. White-tailed eagles are attracted to carcasses set out for them. Small numbers of waders, such as purple sandpipers, feed on the rocky shores.
The Gulf of Bothnia
As you move up into the Gulf of Bothnia (Bothnia Bay) between Finland and Sweden, the ice becomes more and more solidly packed. There is little space for birds here, but grey seals give birth on the ice in January-February – rather later here than in British waters (Pupping starts in August on the Welsh coast). The timing is to do with water temperature and the availability of food – and the frozen surface means fewer predators and less competition for that food.
The Baltic ringed seals produce their pups in February – but the adults can still be seen at other times.
Finnature – I have no association with Finnature, but their website provides a lot of information about Finnish wildlife. And obviously, they want you to travel with them, and use their photographic hides.
Finland’s National Parks – excellent information for visitors
Luontoportti – Naturegate – excellent site for identifying almost anything found in Finland and elsewhere in northern Europe. They have ID apps as well as the website. And include a lot of background information on individual species.
Ranua Wildlife Park – good for a day trip from Rovaniemi/Santaland
Lots of background information to help you understand the landscape and the wildlife, as well as suggested itineraries for the independent traveller. Click here for more information
P.S. Buying books through these links brings me a small commission (at no extra cost to you) which helps with the costs of maintaining this website.
More ideas for nature-watching in Finland
Urho Kekkonen National Park
Urho Kekkonen is the second largest national park in Finland. I visited in early-mid June, before the vacationers and the mosquitos, midges and black-flies really got going.
Watching Wolves in Europe
A selection of organised trips (eco-volunteering, guided vacations and single day/night opportunities) for watching wolves in Europe.
A round-up of opportunities for watching and photographing bears in Europe. Updated 12/01/2023
Finland: Hiidenportti National Park
Information for the naturalist thinking of visiting the Hiidenportti National Park in Finland. With links to other resources.
Luontoportti – NatureGate – a useful website
NatureGate enables you to find fascinating information about hundreds of wild species together with thousands of superb images captured by top photographers. You can view and search for species in various ways – for instance using their English names, their scientific names, or by genus or family. Our unique identification tools also help you to get to know new species. They make the task of discovering new species easy, fast and fun. Try one of these tools right now!
Comprehensive information on nature in many languages
NatureGate mainly works in eight languages. Many of our featured species can be found right around the world. Our multilingual web services can benefit millions of people interested in nature, wherever they happen to be.
We also publish a free Finnish-language web magazine, featuring the latest news on the natural scene, longer articles and interviews, and news about our own work and events. Readers can also send questions about nature to the magazine section experts’ answers.
The NatureGate team welcome you to enjoy investigating the species featured on our site. We hope you will find our services both enjoyable and useful. Exploring our website should also give you a lot of good reasons to get outdoors and explore the natural environment!
Pin for later