Iceland is a treasure trove for bird-watchers. The country’s lava formations, combined with its location, make for wonderful nesting spots, and there are large breeding grounds and colonies all around the island. Several of these are among the best areas for bird-watching in the world.
The most common bird-watching areas in Iceland are:
• Lake Mývatn
, which is Europe’s most diverse waterfowl habitat
and Hornbjarg in the Westfjords
• Breiðafjörður on the Snæfellsnes peninsula
• Hafnaberg on the Reykjanes peninsula
• Hrísey island
• Langanes peninsula
in the northeast
in the south
• Papey island in the east
• Valahnúkur and Arnarstapi in the Highlands
Icelandic bird varieties
If you are a ‘birder’, then perhaps the first image that comes to mind when you think of Iceland is the colourful Atlantic Puffin, which nests in Vestmannaeyjar
(the Westman Islands) during the warmer months. There they have the world’s largest puffin population and a wide variety of other seabirds.
The most common indigenous birds in Iceland are seabirds, waterfowl, and waders; however, an amazing 369 species of birds have been recorded here. 72 of those nest regularly, around 30 are winter visitors, or regular migrants, and the rest end up in Iceland by chance.
The most frequently seen seabirds on the towering cliffs along the Icelandic coast are: the Common Guillemot, Brunnich´s Guillemot, the Razorbill, the Puffin, the Kittiwake, the Fulmar, and the Gannet. There are also many other native bird species here: the Red-throated Diver, White-tailed Eagle, Ptarmigan, and the Gyr Falcon, which is Iceland’s national bird. The Artic Tern also breeds here in the summer and has the longest regular migration of any known animal.
Iceland is also one of the few places in the world where the Whooper Swan is still a common breeding bird. Its numbers are greatest on lakes bordering the central highlands. There are 16 species of duck known to nest in Iceland, and at Lake Mývatn, you’ll find the greatest variety of breeding duck species in all of Europe.
The bird-watching season
The bird-watching season begins in April and May, with May and June offering the best chance of seeing the widest variety of species – you can expect to catch sight of 70 or 80 different species during these months. During May and June, Dyrhólaey, in the south, and the northern end of Hrísey Island, in the north, are closed to visitors in order to protect the birds and their young. By August, bird numbers drop substantially.