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A Cormorant in Iceland

10 Things You Didn‘t Know About Icelandic Seabirds

Between 75 and 85 species of birds nest in or regularly visit Iceland. Many of these birds live on or near the sea. They are diverse and fascinating creatures whose ancestors lived here long before humans arrived. While many tourists are keen to catch sight of the cutest of Iceland‘s many birds – the puffins – the other species are just as cool, if not as fun to look at. Here are some interesting facts about Iceland‘s seabirds.

  • The kittiwake is a seabird similar to a seagull. In Iceland, they are the only member of the gull family to exclusively nest on cliffs. More importantly, they developed a rather bizarre nickname in Newfoundland: the tickleass.
  • The Arctic tern, one of Iceland‘s most notable birds, is also the most aggressive of the tern family. They fiercely defend their young and their nest and have been known to attack humans. During their nesting season, some parts of Iceland are totally covered by these birds and their young. Be sure to give them some room!
  • The white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) is the only eagle species that inhabit Iceland and Iceland‘s largest bird of prey, with a wingspan of 1.78-2.45 metres. It is also the largest bird of prey in all of Europe!
  • Once they find a partner, puffins mate for life. 
  • Although it usually lives in the tundra, the gyrfalcon – Iceland‘s national bird – feeds on smaller seabirds in Iceland and nests on cliffs, putting it near the sea. About a quarter of Europe‘s gyrfalcon population nests in Iceland!
  • The guillemot, a member of the auk family, was one of the first species to nest in Surtsey, an island that was created from a volcanic eruption in the 1960s. Some guillemots have white markings around their eyes, giving the impression that they are wearing spectacles.
  • Leach‘s storm petrel is a small seabird that nests and breeds in remote islands throughout the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, including here in Iceland. Due to a bizarre genetic mutation, they have unusually long lives for birds of this size, living on average about 25 years, with at least one known to reach 40!
  • The razorbill is another member of the auk family and is in fact the closest living relative to the extinct Great Auk. The last of these birds in Iceland were killed on the island of Eldey in the middle of the 19th century. 60-70% of all razorbills breed in Iceland.
  • The arctic and great skuas have in their Latin name the word Stercorarius, which literally means „of dung.“ The skua has a habit of pursuing and bothering other birds until they disgorge their food. From below, however, it looked to human observers like the birds were pooping, hence, of dung.
  • Gannets are Iceland‘s largest seabirds and earned the nickname Queen of the Sea. They can dive 24 metres (80 ft) into the ocean when looking for food!

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