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Your Guide To Birding in Iceland

|January 26, 2023
We are lucky to have many talented, adventurous, and open-minded people within our community. Arctic Adventures community consists not only of staff members but also of numerous guest bloggers, fellow travelers, nature lovers and Iceland enthusiasts. Read their stories!

In our latest article, we’ll be taking a look at the different species of bird in Iceland and covering the most common bird-watching locations. Read now.

Iceland is a country full of natural beauty and wonder. The vast dramatic landscapes and open grasslands make it the perfect space for wildlife to inhabit, particularly birds. Many visitors travel to Iceland seeking to explore the country’s dynamic birdlife scene, and with so many living there, you’ll discover endless opportunities to spot some fascinating species.

How many species of bird are in Iceland?

As of 2022, there are currently 418 confirmed species of bird in Iceland according to the Icelandic Birding Pages (IBMP). Of this figure, around 85 species can be spotted regularly. These include species such as the Arctic puffin, common snipe, whooper swan, golden plover, snowy owl and many more.

In our latest article, we’ll be taking a look at the different species of bird in Iceland, covering the most common bird-watching locations to get a glimpse (and hopefully a photo!) of them. Read on to discover everything you need to know about birding in Iceland.

Arctic Puffins

These adorable little birds account for 8-10 million of the birding population in Iceland, with 60% of the entire world’s puffins living there. Arctic puffins are characterized by their penguin-like color, with a bright red and orange beak which flourishes in the warmer months. The puffin changes depending on the time of year, with their beaks fading to gray during the winter.

Birds Family Puffins in Iceland

Family of puffin birds on the cliffs in Iceland

There are many different locations throughout the country to see puffins, however, some offer more success than others. Here are some of the top spots to see puffins in Iceland. 

Westman Islands - The Westman Islands, or Vestmannaeyjar, is a collective group of islands in southern Iceland. On these islands you will find the largest colony of puffins in the entire world, making it a very popular destination for birdwatchers and tourists alike. To get there, simply take a ferry, which will guide you past the best spots for viewing arctic puffins in their natural habitat. If you're looking for a guide, then our Westman Islands, Volcanoes & Puffins Tour is a perfect way to explore the island and its wildlife.

Látrabjarg - The remote Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords are also another famous place to spot puffin colonies. The vast 8-mile stretch of cliffs forms the westernmost point in Iceland and can reach an immense 440 meters in certain places. Here you will find millions of sea birds, particularly between May and late August. Take a look at our ultimate 13-day Westfjords tour which includes bird watching on day 10.

Dyrholaey - A few hours away from Reykjavík you will find Dyrholaey, a dramatic row of cliffs that curve out into the ocean. Up close, you will see plenty of puffin nests in the nooks and crannies of the rocks, shaped by years of fire and water. 

Take a look at our selection of Puffin Tours today.

Common Snipe

The common snipe, known as hrossagaukur,  is a small, stocky wader that can be found in the lowland regions of the country. Most notably you will hear them on hiking tours, making what is described as a ‘drumming’ sound when in flight. Their sound is loud, however, the snipe can be very difficult to see, as their brown-coloured feathers blend seamlessly with the vegetation on the ground. Iceland's wetlands are a primary habitat for the common snipe, as they are plentiful with insects and worms for the birds to eat.

Common Snipe in Iceland

The Common Snipe in Iceland

Golden Plover

The golden plover plays a significant role in Icelandic folklore, as it is known to be able to foretell the everchanging weather. The general rule is that when the golden plover arrives, winter is over and springtime is here, typically towards the end of March. In Icelandic folklore, the bird was not created on the fifth day when God created birds but instead, was created much later by Jesus himself. This colorful species typically stays throughout the warmer months only, tending to disappear around September time. To see the golden plover you should head towards fresh bodies of water, such as Lake Myvatn in the northern part of the country. With an extensive river network, you may also find these birds along one of Iceland’s many rivers.

Golden Plover in Iceland

Golden plover in its winter plumage in Iceland

Snowy Owls

Snowy owls are one of the most beautiful birds on the planet, with white fluffy feathers and horizontal dark patterns across their small bodies. They are rare to find in Iceland, and only appear between 5-10 times per year. They camouflage well with Iceland’s snow, and their silent hunting methods also make them difficult to hear. Due to a lack of rodents, the snowy owl does not breed in Iceland but instead will migrate from other arctic countries in the northern hemisphere. To find snowy owls in Iceland, you should take a trip to the country’s most remote locations, such as the Eastfjords. It will also be much more likely to see them at nighttime.

Snowy Owl In Iceland

A perched snowy owl in Iceland

Whooper Swans

Whooper swans are the only swan species you will find in Iceland. Larger than the common Bewick’s swan, the whooper swan has a yellow-tinted bill, with white plumage and a long neck. In the springtime the swan will fly from Scotland to Iceland, traveling at very high altitudes of up to 8,000ft. Whooper swans are most commonly found in large areas of water, as their delicate legs cannot support them for long periods of time. The bird breeds all over Iceland where there is ample vegetation and water, such as southern regions of Lake Myvatn.

Whooper Swan in Iceland

Whooper Swan on the lake in Iceland

Birding Tours in Iceland

At Arctic Adventures, we have a unique range of wildlife tours that allow you to glimpse Iceland’s magnificent creatures, including the diverse birding life. Some of our tours combine wildlife watching with adventurous activities such as hiking, hot spring hunting, and much more! Take a look at our Wildlife Tours today to start your next Icelandic journey.

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