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A Birdwatchers Guide to: Finland

Country Facts

This section provides some basic country information. The coverage here is by no means extensive, but the purpose is simply to give a brief overview of the country at a high level. For the interested reader there is a plethora of information to be found on the net and and are two very good sites to start. Much of the text on these 'Country Facts' pages is derived from these two sites.
The first part gives some general background information about the country in brief, the second part below describes the natural history of the country with the subsections 'Geography', 'Climate' and 'Wildlife'. The 'Wildlife' section emphasises other aspects than birds with main focus on mammals. For information about birds, please consult the 'Birder's Facts' section.
The last part gives background information about people and society. The information about the people is in the subsections 'People', 'Religion' and 'Languages', while a broad outline of the society is described in subsections 'Economy', 'Tourism' and 'Politics'.

Quick links to the information on this page:

a banner with typical Finnish nature

The text on this page is partly derived from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; Permanent Link: 'Finland'


Finland (In Finnish: Suomi), officially the Republic of Finland, is a sovereign state in Europe. Finland's population is 5,5 million (2014), staying roughly on the same level over the past two decades. The majority of the population is concentrated in the southern region. In terms of area, it is the eighth largest country in Europe and the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. Finland is a parliamentary republic with a central government based in the capital Helsinki, local governments in 317 municipalities, and an autonomous region, the Åland Islands. Over 1,4 million people live in the Greater Helsinki metropolitan area, which produces a third of the country's GDP.
From the late 12th century, Finland was an integral part of Sweden, a legacy reflected in the prevalence of the Swedish language and its official status. In the spirit of the notion of Adolf Ivar Arwidsson (1791–1858), "Swedes we are no-longer, Russians we do not want to become, let us therefore be Finns", the Finnish national identity started to establish. Nevertheless, in 1809 Finland was incorporated into the Russian Empire as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. In 1906, Finland became the second nation in the world to give the right to vote to all adult citizens and the first in the world to give full suffrage to all adult citizens. Following the 1917 Russian Revolution, Finland declared itself independent. In 1918, the fledgling state was divided by civil war, with the Bolshevik-leaning "Reds" supported by the equally new Soviet Union, fighting the "Whites", supported by the German Empire. After a brief attempt to establish a kingdom, the country became a republic. During World War II, the Soviet Union sought repeatedly to occupy Finland, with Finland losing parts of Karelia, Salla and Kuusamo, Petsamo and some islands, but retaining independence. Finland joined the United Nations in 1955 and established an official policy of neutrality. The Finno-Soviet Treaty of 1948 gave the Soviet Union some leverage in Finnish domestic politics during the Cold War era. It joined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1969, the NATO Partnership for Peace in 1994, the European Union in 1995, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council on 1997 and finally the Eurozone at its inception in 1999.
Finland was a relative latecomer to industrialisation, remaining a largely agrarian country until the 1950s. It rapidly developed an advanced economy while building an extensive Nordic-style welfare state, resulting in widespread prosperity and one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. However, since 2012 Finnish GDP growth has been negative, with a preceding nadir of −8% in 2009. Finland is a top performer in numerous metrics of national performance, including education, economic competitiveness, civil liberties, quality of life, and human development. In 2015, Finland was ranked first in the World Human Capital and the Press Freedom Index, and as the most stable country in the world in the Failed States Index, and second in the Global Gender Gap Report.

Natural History

a general map of finland with the neighbouring countries
A map of Finland, with the neighbouring countries.

Finland is a Northern European country; a peninsula with the Gulf of Finland to the south and the Gulf of Bothnia to the west, the country has land borders with Sweden to the northwest, Norway to the north, and Russia to the east. Estonia is south of the country across the Gulf of Finland. Finland is situated in the geographical region of Fennoscandia, which also includes Scandinavia.
Lying approximately between latitudes 60° and 70° N, and longitudes 20° and 32° E, Finland is one of the world's northernmost countries. Of world capitals, only Reykjavík lies more to the north than Helsinki. The distance from the southernmost - Hanko - to the northernmost point in the country - Nuorgam - is 1160 kilometres (720 mi).
Finland is a country of thousands of lakes and islands - about 188 000 lakes and 179 000 islands. Its largest lake, Saimaa, is the fourth largest in Europe. The area with the most lakes is in Eastern Finland and is called Finnish Lakeland. The greatest concentration of islands is found in the southwest in the Archipelago Sea between continental Finland and the main island of Åland.
Much of the geography of Finland is explained by the Ice Age. The glaciers were thicker and lasted longer in Fennoscandia compared with the rest of Europe. Their eroding effects have left the Finnish landscape mostly flat with few hills and fewer mountains. Its highest point, the Halti at 1324 metres (4344 ft), is found in the extreme north of Lapland at the border between Finland and Norway. The highest mountain whose peak is entirely in Finland is Ridnitsohkka at 1316 m (4318 ft), directly adjacent to Halti.
Taiga covers most of Finland from northern regions of southern provinces to the north of Lapland, with little cultivated land. The forest consists of pine, spruce, birch, and other species. On the southwestern coast, south of the Helsinki-Rauma line, forests are characterized by mixed forests, that are more typical in the Baltic region. In the extreme north of Finland, near the tree line and Arctic Ocean, Montane Birch forests are common. No part of Finland has Arctic tundra, but Alpine tundra can be found at the fells of Lapland. Of the total area 10% is lakes, rivers and ponds, and 78% forest.


The main factor influencing Finland's climate is the country's geographical position between the 60th and 70th northern parallels in the Eurasian continent's coastal zone. The whole of Finland lies in the boreal zone, characterized by warm summers and freezing winters. Within the country, the temperateness varies considerably between the southern coastal regions and the extreme north, showing characteristics of both a maritime and a continental climate. Finland is near enough to the Atlantic Ocean to be continuously warmed by the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream combines with the moderating effects of the Baltic Sea and numerous inland lakes to explain the unusually warm climate compared with other regions that share the same latitude, such as Alaska, Siberia and southern Greenland.
Winters in southern Finland (when mean daily temperature remains below 0°C or 32°F) are usually about 100 days long, and in the inland the snow typically covers the land from about late November to April, and on the coastal areas such as Helsinki, snow often covers the land from late December to late March. Even in the south, the harshest winter nights can see the temperatures fall to −30°C (−22°F) although on coastal areas like Helsinki, temperatures this low are very rare. Climatic summers (when mean daily temperature remains above 10°C or 50°F) in southern Finland last from about late May to mid-September, and in the inland, the warmest days of July can reach over 35°C (95°F).
In northern Finland, particularly in Lapland, the winters are long and cold, while the summers are relatively warm but short. The most severe winter days in Lapland can see the temperature fall down to −45°C (−49°F). The winter of the north lasts for about 200 days with permanent snow cover from about mid-October to early May. Summers in the north are quite short, only two to three months, but can still see maximum daily temperatures above 30°C (77°F) during heat waves.
A quarter of Finland's territory lies within the Arctic Circle and the midnight sun can be experienced for more days the farther north one travels. At Finland's northernmost point, the sun does not set for 73 consecutive days during summer, and does not rise at all for 51 days during winter.


Finland has a diverse fauna and there are over 90 species of mammals found in Finland and the surrounding seas. Some were introduced from other countries in Europe, as well as Asia and North America.
The animals that most people would like to see during a visit to Finland are the four large carnivores, Wolverine (Gulo gulo), Gray Wolf (Canis lupus), Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx) and Brown Bear (Ursus arctos). All of these are to some extent persecuted (illegally, and sometimes even legally) and therefore, although not necesarily rare, shy and difficult to find. The best chances to see any of these are in desolate wilderness areas in Eastern Finland, near the Russian border. Although you do stand a chance to find any of these animals by coincidence, your chances are much better by using the services of some specialized wildlife companies. These companies have special made photography and observation hides around areas with bait and some (or all!) of the large carnivores turn up here regularily. See Elimyssalo in the Central Finland section for more details.
Other carnivores in Finland include Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis), Ermine (Mustela erminea), European Polecat (Mustela putorius), Pine Marten (Martes martes), European Otter (Lutra lutra) and Eurasian Badger (Meles meles). Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and Racoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) (spread to Finland from populations introduced to Western Russia) are both quite common.
There are close to 30 species of rodents living throughout Finland. These include the widespread Muridae, such as the House Mouse (Mus musculus) which live throughout Europe, a number of voles with a more easterly distribution and the Norway lemming (Lemmus lemmus), which only lives in Scandinavia. Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) is a species introduced from North America and can in parts of Finland be a frequent sight. One very interesting mammal in Finland, which is also quite numerous, is the Russian Flying Squirrel (Pteromys volans). They are nocturnal and thus difficult to see in the wild, but Nuuksio National Park near Helsinki is one site with a very healthy population. Red Squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) are a common sight throughout the country.
Of the Lagomorphs the European Hare (Lepus europaeus) is quite common and the Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus) is a very common sight in Finland, particularily when driving through the light summer nights or early mornings.
The endangered Saimaa ringed seal (Pusa hispida saimensis), one of only three lake seal species in the world, exists only in the Saimaa lake system of southeastern Finland, down to only 300 seals today. It has become the emblem of the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation. The Harbor Seal and Gray Seal can also be encountered in coastal waters.
Of the even-hooved ungulates the Elk (Alces alces) and the Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) are the most conspicious. The Elk can with some luck be seen and the best time is in the early hours of the morning or, in Lapland, in the midst of the light summer nights. In the northern half of Finland domestic Reindeer is a very common sight and driving through parts of Lapland you cannot miss them (drive carefully if you have a flock next to the road, their behaviour can be very unpredictive!). More interesting is the fact that there are also wild Forest Reindeer to be found in parts of Eastern Finland. This population was almost extinct at the end of the 19th century, but has later recovered somewhat due to replenishment from the Russian population and strict conversation measures. The wild populations are held separated from the domestic Reindeer in order to avoid interbreeding.
Other ungulates in Finland are Wild Boar (Sus scrofa), Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus), White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) (introduced), Fallow Deer (Dama dama)(introduced) and Red Deer (Cervus elaphus). The White-tailed Deer can by quite numerous in parts of Southern Finland and the Porkkala peninsula is a very good place to see these. See 'Porkkala and Kirkkonummi' section in Finland South Coast for details.
Of small, shy and hard to identify mammals there are 10 species of insectivore and 13 species of bat in Finland.

Birds are of course among the most interesting and visible part of Finland’s wildlife. The country has over 450 species on record, of which approximately 340 are regular. See 'Finland Birders Facts' for more information about the avifauna of Finland.

People and Society


The population of Finland is currently about 5 500 000. Finland has an average population density of 18 inhabitants per square kilometre; this is the third-lowest population density of any European country (behind those of Norway and Iceland). Finland's population has always been concentrated in the southern parts of the country, a phenomenon that became even more pronounced during 20th-century urbanisation. The largest cities in Finland are those of the Greater Helsinki metropolitan area - Helsinki, Espoo, and Vantaa. Other cities with population over 100 000 are Tampere, Turku, Oulu, Jyväskylä, Kuopio and Lahti.
As of 2014, there were 322 700 people with a foreign background living in Finland (5,9% of the population), most of whom are from Russia, Estonia, Somalia, Iraq and Yugoslavia.

the Helsinki cathedral
The Helsinki Cathedral is one of the landmarks of central Helsinki.

Approximately four million (or 73,9% at the end of 2014) Finns are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, although its share of the country's population has declined by roughly one percent annually in recent years. The second largest group, accounting for 23,5% of the population, has no religious affiliation. The non-religious group is growing quickly from just below 13% in the year 2000. A small minority belong to the Finnish Orthodox Church (1,1%). Other Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church in Finland are significantly smaller, as are the Muslim, Jewish, and other non-Christian communities (totaling 1,5%). The main Lutheran and Orthodox churches are national churches of Finland with special roles such as in state ceremonies and schools.
The Lutheran Church estimates that approximately 1,8% of its members attend church services weekly. The average number of church visits per year by church members is approximately two.
According to a 2010 Eurobarometer poll, 33% of Finnish citizens responded that "they believe there is a God"; 42% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force"; and 22% that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force". According to ISSP survey data (2008), 8% consider themselves "highly religious", and 31% "moderately religious". In the same survey, 28% reported themselves as "agnostic" and 29% as "non-religious".

The first Muslims in Finland were Tatars who immigrated mainly between 1870 and 1920. After that there were decades with generally a small number of immigration in Finland. Since the late 20th century the number of Muslims in Finland has increased rapidly due to immigration. Nowadays there are about 50 000 - 60 000 Muslims in Finland.
During the period of Finnish autonomy (1809–1917) Russian Jews established themselves in Finland as tradesmen and craftsmen; almost all these Jews were retired soldiers from the Imperial Russian army. After Finland declared its independence in 1917 the Jews were granted full rights as Finnish citizens.The number of Jews in Finland in 2010 was approximately 1500.


Finnish and Swedish are the official languages of Finland. Finnish predominates nationwide while Swedish is spoken in some coastal areas in the west and south and in the autonomous region of Åland. The Sami language is an official language in northern Lapland.
The native language of 90% of the population is Finnish, which is part of the Finnic subgroup of the Uralic languages. The language is one of only four official EU languages not of Indo-European origin. Finnish is closely related to Karelian and Estonian and more remotely to the Sami languages and Hungarian.
Swedish is the native language of 5% of the population (Swedish-speaking Finns).
To the north, in Lapland, are the Sami people, numbering around 7000 and recognized as an indigenous people. About a quarter of them speak a Sami language as their mother tongue.
There are additionally two minority languages spoken in Finland: Finnish Romani is spoken by some 5000–6000 people and the Tatar language is spoken by some 800 Finnish Tatars who moved to Finland mainly during the Russian rule from the 1870s until the 1920s.
The rights of minority groups (in particular Sami, Swedish speakers and Romani people) are protected by the constitution.
Immigrant languages include Russian (1,1%), Estonian (0,6%), Somali, English and Arabic.

The best-known foreign languages are English (63%), German (18%), and French (3%). English is studied by most pupils as a compulsory subject from the third or fifth grade (at 9 or 11 years of age respectively) in the comprehensive school (in some schools other languages can be chosen instead). German, French, and Russian can be studied as second foreign languages from the eighth grade (at 14 years of age; some schools may offer other options).
Norwegian and, to some extent, Danish are mutually intelligible with Swedish and are thus understood by a significant minority.


The economy of Finland has a per capita output equal to that of other European economies such as France, Germany, Belgium or the UK. The largest sector of the economy is services at 66%, followed by manufacturing and refining at 31%. Primary production is 2,9%. With respect to foreign trade, the key economic sector is manufacturing. The largest industries in 2007 were electronics (22%); machinery, vehicles and other engineered metal products (21%); forest industry (13%); and chemicals (11%). The gross domestic product peaked in 2008. As of 2015 the country's economy is at 2006 level.
Finland has significant timber, mineral (iron, chromium, copper, nickel and gold) and freshwater resources.
Finland is highly integrated into the global economy and international trade is a third of GDP. The European Union makes up 60% of the total trade. The largest trade flows are with Germany, Russia, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, Netherlands and China. Trade policy is managed by the European Union, where Finland has traditionally been among the free trade supporters, except for agriculture. Finland is the only Nordic country to have joined the Eurozone.
Finland's climate and soils make growing crops a particular challenge. The country lies between latitudes 60°N and 70°N, and has severe winters and relatively short growing seasons that are sometimes interrupted by frosts. Annual precipitation is usually sufficient, but it occurs almost exclusively during the winter months, making summer droughts a constant threat. Nonetheless Finland's agriculture was efficient and productive — at least when compared with farming in other European countries.
Forests play a key role in the country's economy, making it one of the world's leading wood producers and providing raw materials at competitive prices for the crucial wood-processing industries.
Private sector employees amount to 1,8 million, out of which around a third with tertiary education. As of 2008, average purchasing power-adjusted income levels are similar to those of Italy, Sweden, Germany and France. The proportion of part-time workers was one of the lowest in OECD in 1999.
The unemployment rate was 9,4% in 2015, having risen from 8,7% in 2014.

Some of the world's biggest cruise ships are built in Finnish shipyards.
Some of the world's biggest cruise ships are built in Finnish shipyards.

Finland was rapidly industrialized after the Second World War, achieving GDP per capita levels equal to that of Japan or the UK in the beginning of the 1970s. Initially, most development was based on two broad groups of export-led industries, the metal industry and the forest industry. The metal industry includes shipbuilding, metalworking, the car industry, engineered products such as motors and electronics, and production of metals (steel, copper and chromium). Some of the world's biggest cruise ships are built in Finnish shipyards. The forest industry includes forestry, timber, pulp and paper and is a logical development based on Finland's extensive forest resources. The Finnish economy has diversified however, with expansion into fields such as electronics (e.g. Nokia), metrology, transport fuels, chemicals, engineering consulting and information technology (e.g. Rovio, known for Angry Birds), and is no longer dominated by the two sectors of metal and forest industry. Likewise, the structure has changed, with the service sector growing, with manufacturing reducing in importance; agriculture is only a minor part. Despite this, production for export is still more prominent than in Western Europe, thus making Finland more vulnerable to global economic trends.

Finland has top levels of economic freedom in many areas. Finland is ranked 16th in the 2008 global Index of Economic Freedom and 9th in Europe. While the manufacturing sector is thriving, the OECD points out that the service sector would benefit substantially from policy improvements. The 2007 IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook ranked Finland 17th most competitive while The World Economic Forum 2008 index ranked Finland the 6th most competitive. In both indicators, Finland's performance was next to Germany, and significantly higher than most European countries. In the Business competitiveness index 2007–2008 Finland ranked third in the world.
Economists attribute much growth to reforms in the product markets. According to the OECD only four EU-15 countries have less regulated product markets (UK, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden) and only one has less regulated financial markets (Denmark). Nordic countries were pioneers in liberalizing energy, postal and other markets in Europe. The legal system is clear and business bureaucracy less than most countries. Property rights are well protected and contractual agreements are strictly honoured. Finland is rated the least corrupt country in the world in the Corruption Perceptions Index and 13th in the Ease of Doing Business Index.

an illustration of the polar light
The polar light is a frequent sight in Northern Finland, particularily in the winter.

In 2005 Finnish tourism grossed over €6,7 billion with a 5% increase from the previous year. Much of the sudden growth can be attributed to the globalisation and modernisation of the country as well as a rise in positive publicity and awareness.
Commercial cruises between major coastal and port cities in the Baltic region, including Helsinki, Turku, Tallinn, Stockholm, and Travemünde, play a significant role in the local tourism industry. Finland is locally regarded as the home of Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, living in the northern Lapland region and this is a major tourist attraction. Lapland is so far north that the polar light is seen regularly in the fall, winter and spring. In the heart of summer, however, there is the wonderful midnight sun and at Finland's northernmost point the Sun does not completely set for 73 consecutive days.
The Finnish landscape is covered with thick pine forests and rolling hills, and complemented with a labyrinth of lakes and inlets. Much of Finland is pristine and virgin as it contains 37 national parks from the Southern shores of the Gulf of Finland to the high fells of Lapland. Outdoor activities range from Nordic skiing, golf, fishing, yachting, lake cruises, hiking and kayaking, among many others. Wildlife is abundant in Finland and both bird-watching and hunting is popular.
Finland also has urbanised regions with many cultural events and activities. One of the most important of these is the annual Savonlinna Opera Festival. There are every summer also numeral rock, pop and jazz festivals.


The Constitution of Finland defines the political system. Finland is a parliamentary democracy and the prime minister is the country's most powerful politician. The constitution in its current form came into force on 1 March 2000 and was amended on 1 March 2012. Citizens can run and vote in parliamentary, municipal and presidential elections, but also in European Union elections.
The head of state of Finland is the president of the Republic of Finland. Finland has for most of its independence had a semipresidential system, but in the last decades the powers of the President of Finland have been diminished. Direct, one- or two-stage elections are used to elect the president for a term of six years and for a maximum of two consecutive terms.
The 200-member unicameral Parliament of Finland called Eduskunta exercises supreme legislative authority. It may alter the constitution and ordinary laws, dismiss the cabinet and override presidential vetoes. Its acts are not subject to judicial review; the constitutionality of new laws is assessed by the parliament's constitutional law committee. The parliament is elected for a term of four years.
Since universal suffrage was introduced in 1906, the parliament has been dominated by the Centre Party (former Agrarian Union), the National Coalition Party (conservatives) and the Social Democrats. These parties have enjoyed approximately equal support and their combined vote has totalled about 65–80% of all votes. The relative strengths of the parties have commonly varied only slightly from one election to another. Only in recent years has this pattern been interrupted by some new trends: firstly with the rise of the Green party since 1983 and in the 2011 elections the populist True Finns party achieved exceptional success, increasing its representation from 5 to 39 seats and thus surpassing the Centre Party.
The autonomous province of Åland, which forms a federacy with Finland, elects one member to the parliament, who traditionally joins the parliamentary group of the Swedish People's Party of Finland (The province also holds elections for its own permanent regional council).