Equipment of ornithologist Pentti Linkola – binoculars and a notebook

Artefact of the month - November 2021

By the beginning of November, birds’ autumn migration from Finland is almost over. Ecologist and ornithologist Pentti Linkola (1932–2020) made a living from fishing, but birds were his passion. Linkola observed birds closely and compiled statistics on his observations. He also witnessed the changes in many bird populations.

To Pentti Linkola, nature was more important than humans. Humans were just one species among the equally valuable animal species. Seeing the depletion of birds and nature, caused by industrialisation, timber cutting, intensive agriculture and the related use of pesticides, was difficult for Linkola.

Linkola can be seen as a pioneer in ornithology. In his life, he ringed tens of thousands of birds. He also compiled 65 journals on bird observations between 1945–2016. His most active birdwatching years were between the 1950s and 1970s, but he kept watching birds and recording his observations throughout his life, when his health allowed it.

According to Linkola, the bird population is changing slowly, but depleting every year. Writing up his bird observations from the past decades felt melancholic for him, since the notes showed the changes in the species and nature in a concrete way, whether through population decrease, extinction or new species that had arrived in the area.

The protection of forests in their natural state was Pentti Linkola’s dream. This dream was finally realised through the Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation, which he founded in 1995. The Foundation owns protected forests throughout Finland, which also helps it secure the habitats of endangered species.

Items from Linkola’s birdwatching trips donated to the National Museum of Finland

Pentti Linkola’s daughters, Mirjami Linkola and Leena Linkola, donated items from their father’s estate to the collections of the National Museum of Finland in June 2021. They selected utility items that were the most typical of Linkola and the most important to him, such as a typewriter, letter scales, a knife, pencils, fish-weighing scales and notebooks. The items show marks of life lived, from general wear and tear to bite marks on the pencils, the smell of smoke on every item, and the dirt and patina on the surfaces. The items are related to Linkola’s profession as a fisherman, his literary works that led to debates – and sometimes even controversy – and his activities with birds.

When he went birdwatching on his bicycle, he carried heavy equipment with him: a tent, a sleeping bag and some pieces of smaller equipment, such as binoculars and foodstuffs in the pannier bags. The binoculars donated to the museum are the oldest ones from Pentti Linkola’s estate: sturdy Leitz binoculars with their leather case.

While out in nature, Linkola watched birds with binoculars and wrote journal-like notes in his black-cover notebooks sized about 11 x 15 cm. The notes included the weather at his watching spot, description of the landscape and other observations. As for birds, he wrote down details such as the observation spot, the bird’s behaviour and information about the nest’s condition and the number of nestlings. When out on his trips, he spent all his leisure time writing the notes. His handwriting is not easy to read, since the text is small and includes shorthand.

Pentti Linkola wrote up his notes in a multi-step process. He typed simple bird observations into separate folders with his old Triumph typewriter. As for the content of his notebooks, Linkola wrote this up by hand into separate hardbound journals. As his work progressed, he crossed out the parts he had written up, which can be seen in the two notebooks from 1966 donated to the museum. Linkola did not finish writing up all of his notebooks. There were always new observations to record!

Maria Ollila


IT150 4 3 kiikarit ja kotelo Matti Kilponen
Leitz binoculars and a leather case. Photo: Matti Kilponen, Finnish Heritage Agency.
JOKALS2 Lin01 2 Pentti Linkola 1988 kuva Lauri Sorvoja
Pentti Linkola in 1988. Photo: Lauri Sorvoja, Journalistic Picture Archive, the collection of Lauri Sorvoja, Finnish Heritage Agency.
IT150 6 muistivihko 1966 2 auki Matti Kilponen
Linkola’s bird observations from 1966 in a notebook with black covers. Photo: Matti Kilponen, Finnish Heritage Agency.