The birdlife in Iceland is as dramatic and varied as the rugged landscape that provides a spectacular setting to view nearly 300 different species of birds. The coastal cliffs alone carry a mind-boggling array of seabirds in massive numbers.
Large colonies and breeding grounds are found in various areas throughout the country that has long riveted the imagination of birdwatchers and travelers alike. Latrabjarg in the Westfjords, Skalanes in the east, Lake Myvatn in the north, and Flatey Island in the West are wonderful birding locales, while visits to the Reykjanes peninsula and the Westman Islands in the South are certainly worthwhile.
Iceland’s exotic Westfjords are home to the colossal Latrabjarg cliffs, the largest bird cliff in the world. The variety and sheer number of birds that can be seen here at one time are astounding with a constant stream of thousands of birds. This majestic cliff’s claim to fame is that it is the westernmost point in Europe and hosts Iceland’s greatest concentration of seabirds.
Thousands of Iceland’s iconic puffins frolic about and are not shy about having their picture taken. Other species that can be found here include gannets, guillemots, razorbills, white-tailed eagles, red-throated loons, arctic terns, redshanks, snipes, auks, murres, kittiwakes, fulmars, snow buntings, and ringed plovers.
Lake Myvatn is an outstandingly beautiful region in northern Iceland known for its spectacular volcanic activity and as a major breeding ground for birds with more species of breeding ducks than anywhere else in Europe.
Common to Lake Myvatn are scoter ducks, Eurasian widgeons, tufted ducks, barrow’s goldeneye, scaups, harlequin ducks, whimbrels phalaropes, golden plovers, and you may also see gold crests and birds of prey including short-eared owls and gyrfalcons. Don’t miss a chance to visit the Sigurgeir Bird Museum on the nearby Neslandatangi peninsula.
In Husavik about an hour’s drive away on the northern shoreline there are a good number of breeding purple sandpipers, Arctic terns, snow buntings, as well as ptarmigans and occasionally a hunting gyrfalcon.
Located less than an hour from Reykjavik, the Reykjanes peninsula is an area typified by vast lava fields as well as sandy beaches and marshlands which provide the home to several breeding colonies of migrant birds. Probably the best known cliffs for bird watching are the towering Krisuvikurbjarg cliffs with a wide variety of species including guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes, as well as puffins, herring gulls, and shags.
Breidafjordur Fjord is a beautiful bay located in western Iceland, surrounded by mountains including the Snaefellsjokull glacier capped volcano. Within the bay are thousands of tiny islands which provide tranquil nesting grounds for around 50 different bird species including puffins, sea eagles, shags, cormorants and sometimes white-tailed eagle can also be seen there.
The only inhabited island in Breidafjordur Fjord is Flatey Island which can be reached by ferry and is home to a wide variety of bird species including black guillemots, red-necked phalaropes, redshanks, meadow pipits, redwings, eider ducks and the rare red phalarope.
The bird watching scene in the Westman Islands is most famous for Iceland’s lovable and iconic puffin, or 'lundi' in Icelandic. If accessed by ferry the bird watching can begin from the sea as thousands of these tiny playful birds jump from the cliffs and dive into the ocean in search for food.
A fun and family event occurs every August on the island of Heimaey during ‘Flight of the Puffling’ when the baby puffins leave their nests for the very first time to test their wings. Visitors and locals often help rescue those who fumble at their attempt at flight!
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