Birdlife in Iceland

Date 09 June 2019

Birdlife in Iceland

Birdlife in Iceland

Birdlife is particularly rich in Iceland. To date, no less than 300 species of birds have been documented in Iceland. Of these, about 70 breed on the island, 26 are considered irregular breeders, 9 are considered to be transient, and around 150 are considered to be casual or unwitting visitors arriving in Iceland, carried by the winds.

Generally speaking, Iceland is more suitable for so-called “marine” birds than for other types of birds. This is due to the absence of trees, the lack of insects and other invertebrates.

These local birds live in specific environments: cliffs, beaches, deserts, lakes... These are the main species you are likely to encounter in Iceland.

Cliff-dwelling Birds


The cliffs offer refuge to numerous species of birds. Some, like the kittiwake, live all over the coastal regions of the island, while other species are more localized, such as the puffin, which can be found near the great cliffs of Latrabjarg in the Western Fjörds, on some islands such as Flatey, Drangey or Westman islands, and of course where they abound in the Vìk region in the far south of Iceland.

Additional information about the Atlantic puffin in Iceland and their location:

This strange little bird is the harbinger of spring, and the most populous species in Iceland (about 10 million birds!). Its black and white plumage brings to mind a classy little suit, while the large multicolored beak adds a punk touch to this adorable sea bird.

You can get up close to photograph the critters, even from 2 or 3 meters away, they really aren't shy!

Fous de bassan

The northern fulmar and the gannet are also thriving near the coast, especially in the north. There are 3 types of murres in Iceland: Common murres live in the south of the island, while the Thick-billed and the Marbled murre are more common in the north.

The gannet is typically very present on the Melrakkaslétta peninsula, especially if you have the opportunity to hike from Raudinupur. Nearly 25,000 gannet couples live in Iceland.

In addition to that, no less than five species of gulls can be found in Iceland: the herring, marine, brown, and ash gulls are common in the rest of Europe, while the Great Gull is typically Arctic. It can be spotted in the west of the country in the Breiðafjörður region, along with two species of cormorants: the crested cormorant and the great cormorant.

Birds near the beaches:

Grand labbe

The great labbe is one of the largest birds in Iceland, its behavior closer to birds of prey, known for its aggressive temperament. The great labbe can be observed in particular in the Myrdal region in the south.

The common eider is a large sea duck, very present in Iceland in the south-west, in particular, about 300,000 of them can be distinguished. If you go to Iceland, it is very likely that you will encounter the Arctic tern several times.

These can be found everywhere on the island from May into the summer and keep in mind they behave aggressively, hovering above your head and then trying to peck you if you get too close to its nest. If you encounter one, you'll know it!

Huitrier Pie

On the beaches of Iceland, you will at some point hear the very unique and shrill cry of the Pied Oystercatcher, easily recognized with its long orange beak. The Icelandic government has declared these species as protected.

This is the case with the bald eagle, which is part of the eagle family and has a wingspan of 2.50 m! There are only 45 couples left today, as they had a bad reputation for killing lambs and eiders.

This is also the case with the Gerfaust falcon, whose nests are kept secret and their observation almost impossible due to smuggling.

Iceland truly is a paradise for birdwatchers, there are numerous species to spot and they are usually very easy to approach and observe.

See also:


Sterne arctique