Text: Markku Hyppönen
Photographs: Esa Ervasti, Rodeo.fi and Vastavalo.fi
The Fiskars village landscape includes, as integral parts, the river and the ducks; the main road of the village with the clock tower and the jackdaws; the groves with their warblers and other songbirds of summer; and the hills around the village with their forest birds.
In this article (originally a series of writings that appeared in the publications of various local associations), I will first present some of the best local songbirds, the many woodpeckers around the village, some interesting specimens from the Passeriformes order and the ducks on the river. I will round off the article by offering a list of other birds that can be easily spotted in and around the village.
In spring and early summer, even the not-so-sharp-eared of us will notice that the air is filled with the most extraordinary and interesting warbles and chirps, which would seem to be emanating from the mouths of birds or, rather, their beaks. Well, it is indeed our feathered friends who are the culprits of this downright deafening noise. In actual fact, birds, or more precisely, the male birds, sing for two main reasons: 1) to inform the other males of the same species that this area, this nesting tree, nest box or territory, is mine and not yours, so don't you dare stick your beak in here or you'll be sorry; and 2) to woo the females of the species and let them know that here is a good man to father their future children. The most courageous and fast males that are the first to return from their migration take the best territories and at the same time snap up the best females, according to the survival of the fittest. Birds do have other reasons for singing, in addition to the competitive singing between males, such as communicating with or warning each other, but here we will stick to what may be called the “singing proper”.
Let's now move on to my top dozen songbirds as promised. This list is completely subjective and based on the author's personal views, so readers have no right of appeal as to the list's "correctness or ranking order".
First up is the regional bird of Uusimaa, the BLACKBIRD. The fluting song of the blackbird can most often be heard at dusk from a top of a fir tree. Blackbirds can be found all around the Fiskars village throughout the year. However, the blackbird does its nesting in the sheltered shadows of the dark fir forests.
The GREENFINCH perseveres in these parts throughout the year and is one of the first songbirds of the spring. Its most typical singing stage is the top of a deciduous tree. The territorial song of the greenfinch is a long wheeze, which does not resemble a song at all, so you cannot really call it a master singer, but it is loud and easily audible and thus earns its place in the top dozen.
The CHAFFINCH, on the other hand, is a true singing artist. Its happy refrain can be heard almost non-stop in a variety of habitats throughout the early summer. The chaffinch is one of the earliest migratory birds, starting its songs most often in April. The chaffinch and the willow warbler are the most common and numerous bird species in Finland.
WILLOW WARBLERS only fill up their bellies with insects, so they return from their migration rather late, in early June. There are considerable similarities between the songs of the willow warbler and the chaffinch, but while the latter sings in a major key, the song of the former has a minor key ending. Willow warblers mostly stay in the woods, but they can also be spotted in gardens and thickets.
The willow warbler is a small bird with a modest grey-greenish-yellowish appearance. There are quite a few similar-looking songbirds around: wood warblers, icterine warblers, chiffchaffs and thrush nightingales. I will here ignore the chiffchaff, which is mostly found in fir forests and whose song is not heard on the roads of our village. WOOD WARBLERS, ICTERINE WARBLERS and THRUSH NIGHTINGALES are all songbirds of deciduous forests. They are elusive characters but their voices are easy to identify and distinguish, on the volume alone (perhaps the voice of the wood warbler does not carry very far, but the other two are all the more vocal). The loudness of the thrush nightingale's song remains a thing to wonder at every time you hear it. The song in itself is not actually that melodious, mainly consisting of chugs, clicks and special plucks. In Fiskars, these three birds are easily and frequently spotted in thick, all-deciduous forests and along the riverbanks.
When walking on the roads on either side of the river, you can often hear the whistling of the COMMON ROSEFINCH. The species has recently multiplied tremendously, and it is not as elusive as the three birds mentioned above. I would like to add that the population seems to vary greatly, as in the 2010s, the species seems again to be decreasing.
In the best, humid and leafy groves of Fiskars, you can often hear what this writer considers the cheeriest songster of all, the GARDEN WARBLER. Its song is an almost non-stop display of chatter and bubbly, joyous tunes.
The PIED FLYCATCHER, found in forests but most often in gardens (it is a hole-nester), is another chirpy songbird. The male is black and white and the size of a blue tit, and it does not stray far from its home tree and its nest box. It aggressively defends its territory, and you often see pied flycatchers in wild chases and wrestling in mid-air, with the two wrestlers falling down in a ball of flying feathers.
I'll throw in a couple of garden birds to make up the dozen: the master imitator that is the COMMON STARLING and the GREAT TIT. Both are hole-nesters, and many people identify them as they can be found in the nest boxes in their gardens. There are many aspen and alder trees along the Fiskars river, in which the mother starlings feed their young. The holes made by woodpeckers are now inhabited by these nice creatures, who bustle about on the lawns. Most people are probably familiar with the ubiquitous great tit: it is around all summer and winter long and starts singing early in the spring. Great tits produce many young and can raise two, or even three, broods over the summer, with up to ten nestlings or even more in each.
The writer has noticed that whenever he is out walking in Hasselbacka or elsewhere in the village, there always seems to be a woodpecker, drumming away, summer or winter. Woodpeckers are known to be resident birds, and they can get by in the Finnish winter with what they find to eat, so they do not have to spend time or energy making trips to sunnier climes. Food actually serves as a good way of starting to introduce the various woodpeckers. The GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER is the most common woodpecker in Fiskars, and in all of Finland. In the winter, save for the occasional suet treats at bird tables, it feeds solely on conifer tree seeds that it digs out of the cones with its mighty beak. It also uses its beak to hollow out a nest hole for itself. Every year, the woodpecker makes a new hole and, in the process, provides good homes for many tits and other hole-nesters. In the summer, the great spotted woodpecker gets some variation in its diet by eating insects and nestlings. Many people who hang nest boxes notice when the great spotted woodpecker has paid a visit: there is a hole in the side of the box where it has forced its way in and gobbled up the eggs or baby birds. In the mating season in the late winter and spring, the males make the boundaries of their territories known by making noise in echoey places, by drumming on a dead tree, a street lamp, an electricity pole or the protective metal cap on top of such pole. In addition to the hammering noises, the great spotted woodpecker makes other, quite easily identifiable sounds. The biggest and strongest of our woodpeckers is the dark-plumaged and loud BLACK WOODPECKER. When it calls or drums on something, you can hear it from miles away. The black woodpecker has become more common in recent years; maybe it has grown tired of the silent wilds and gravitated towards human settlements? Be that as it may, this red-capped fellow is a truly handsome sight. A third and slightly rarer woodpecker that has a more mysterious, if not “skulky”, character and that is frequently found nesting in Fiskars is the GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER. Contrary to what the name may suggest, this is a largely greenish bird of a size between the great spotted woodpecker and the black woodpecker, the former being the size of a starling, dipper or thrush and the latter the size of a jackdaw, nutcracker, jay or pigeon. Grey-headed woodpeckers like to spend time on the sides of electricity poles and trunks of deciduous trees, possibly for reasons of camouflage. I'll round up the woodpeckers in the Fiskars village area with two maybes: the LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER may still nest here and the THREE-TOED WOODPECKER may wander into the area in the spring and autumn time, peeling the bark from dead firs.
The trees in the hills around the Fiskars village have largely been preserved. The tree stock is particularly old, and the wood of elderly trees is suitably soft for insects and larvae, not to mention woodpeckers, in their search for food. Furthermore, the sturdy trunks provide particularly good places for woodpeckers to hide their nests. So, in all, it may well be that Fiskars is a veritable woodpecker's paradise!
The HOUSE SPARROW is a common sight in cultural landscapes (that is, it feels at home near humans and nests in holes in buildings), and you cannot miss it if you walk down the Peltorivi road, near the Fiskars volunteer fire brigade building or in the Konkakumpu area. Most often, you detect house sparrows subconsciously by hearing them, as their joyous and vocal tweeting song rings out almost non-stop wherever these brown-grey creatures appear. This tweeting often sounds from deep in the hedgerows or the eaves of buildings, which is where these twitterers can actually be spotted, if you are not too busy and just think to look up. The house sparrow builds its nests under eaves. The old-fashioned tile roofs are its particular favourite nesting places. It does most of its food hunting on the ground, where it can be spotted.
However, you are most likely to spot it in hedges (there are probably no hawthorn hedges in Fiskars without a sparrow chirping in them) and large thick shrubs (such as lilacs and snowberries). Let the chirping guide you to the spot! In the few farms near the village, the house sparrow is a common yard bird. The house sparrow is an omnivore. Its short and robust bill gives it away as a seed-eating bird. It does not migrate, but stays put in its territory, which makes it and its close relatives resident birds.
The EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, mainly found in eastern and south-eastern Finland, has not gained a foothold (or should I say "winghold") in our westerly location, although there have been some sightings. In certain parts of Finland, it has managed to oust its larger cousin, which, based on the observations of this writer, is not an opponent to be trifled with when it comes to fighting it out, bird to bird. The HAWFINCH is, literally, a rare bird in our village. The lively, yellowish green EURASIAN SISKIN, flying off in small flocks along the paths, and the EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH, a remarkably bright-coloured specimen among Finnish wildlife, with its yellow patterns and red base of the bill, and often found in wasteland areas, have been strikingly common in our village at the start of the 21st century. The COMMON REDPOLL, a small, light, red-browed flock bird is fairly frequently spotted in Fiskars, flying, chirping, from one riverside tree to another, especially in the winter. Yet the most easily spotted and, without doubt, the most common bird from the Passeriformes order in our beloved home village is the one I started with, the house sparrow.
When looking over the Fiskars river, whatever the season, you cannot fail to notice the ducks, as they swim and dive in the water and occasionally let out their uproarious laughter-like quacks. These ducks are mallards. The MALLARD has a large bluish patch on either side under its wings. If the light is right, you can just make it out. This patch, for which the ornithologists use the fancy term "wing speculum", appears in both sexes. Otherwise, the male and female are easy to distinguish. The male has a yellow-green bill, a green head and a multi-coloured body. The colours of the male's body feathers include beige, brown, black, white, grey and mixtures of all of these. The nicely curving black feathers on its rump complete its great looks. The female mallard is brown and has an orange bill. When you look more closely at the ducks on the Fiskars river, you notice that quite a few of them are mixed colour, freaks of nature. Mallards are dabbling ducks, that is, they do not dive completely under water, but submerge their heads while their tails stick out in the air in a funny way. They can do a full dive, too, which is something you can witness, for example, when they wash themselves. The mallard eats by dabbling in the water and the bottom mud and capturing small animals in the lamellae in its bill. The villagers feed their beloved mallards throughout the year. The Fiskars Corporation takes care of them by providing grain in a special feeding spot and not allowing the river to freeze over near this spot, even when it is extremely cold. The mallard nests in places that are quite far from the river, and the nest is beautifully decorated with down and typically contains ten eggs or so. The nest is well hidden and on the ground. When the ducklings have hatched out, the mother duck marches her young swiftly and single file into the river, where they immediately learn how to swim and get their own food. In late May and early June, you can spot these little chicks. At midsummer, the mallards, as it were, disappear from the picture. This is when they moult. During moulting, the mallard renews its plumage, and when the wing feathers need changing, it can be entirely flightless for some time. So they have every reason to go into hiding for a bit. After moulting, the male and female mallards are not easily distinguished, because the colourful feathers of the males are not yet fully grown.
In the winter, birdwatchers are often terrified about how mallards fare in the ice-cold water or standing on slimy ice floes in the raw winter wind. When preening, the bird squeezes oil from a gland at its tail, which it then spreads across its plumage, making it completely water- and cold-proof. The mallard’s webbed feet do not feel cold either, as its blood seems to contain some sort of “antifreeze agent” in the winter. I don't know whether it is their feet being constantly exposed to the cold, but at least to the ears of the writer, the mallard's call sounds quite hoarse! You can sometimes, especially during migration in the late spring, spot other waterbirds that are similar to mallards. Almost without exception, the first migratory birds that arrive in our village and on our river are the COMMON GOLDENEYE and the GOOSANDER. The male of both species is black and white, but they are, nevertheless, quite easy to distinguish: the goosander is considerably bigger and has "longer hair". The best distinguishing mark of the common goldeneye male is the conspicuous white dot on its black head. The goosander female is grey and has a red-brown head. It, too, has long feathers on its head. The common goldeneye female is very small and dark. When summer arrives, both species go off to nest, in holes or nest boxes. There is a fun curiosity related to the common goldeneye: its wings make a nice whistling noise while in flight! The goosander is a piscivore, while the common goldeneye is a herbivore, and they are both diving ducks. The COMMON TEAL, the smallest of the dabbling ducks, has also been known to make an appearance on the river. It has a very duck-like appearance, with green colour on the wing speculum of both sexes and on the male's head. The Fiskars river can also boast two super-rare visitors: the MANDARIN DUCK and the SMEW.
There are dozens of other bird species that can be seen or heard in or around the village, but I will close by just listing some of these: the Canada goose, grey heron, common crane, common black-headed gull, lesser black-headed gull, common sandpiper, white-throated dipper, long-tailed tit, red wing, fieldfare, Eurasian treecreeper, common raven, Eurasian nutcracker, Eurasian jay, carrion crow, common magpie, osprey and rock dove.