What is better than spending a day out in nature trying to spot birds in their natural habitat? Especially in Iceland, a country known for its diverse birdlife.
On this arctic island, about 388 species of birds have been recorded. 85 of these nest in Iceland, or have attempted to do so, and 12 are migratory birds staying in Iceland only for summer or winter. The rest of the recorded bird species are just accidental visitors, mostly coming from Europe and America.
There’s enough to see and experience for bird enthusiasts. In this article, we will tell you how to go birding in Iceland.
Best time to spot birds
May and June are the best summer months to spot birds. This is when all migratory birds have arrived in Iceland, and it is not uncommon that birders spot up to 70 or 80 bird species during their trip. Birds are easier to spot during these months as they protect their nests and there is a lot of daylight, in June even up to 24 hours.
Essential gear for bird-watching
If you want to go birding in Iceland, you should bring the following items.
First of all, warm clothing. Icelandic weather is changeable and if you’re planning to be outside for a prolonged period of time, you should wear warm breathable layers, of which the outer layer is wind-resistant and waterproof. It’s also better to wear neutral-coloured clothing, so you can blend in with the environment.
An Icelandic bird guide is useful, and a map of the area. You should bring a notebook and pencil to write down details about your findings. As said before, there is almost 24-hour daylight in the summer months in Iceland, so sunglasses are not an unnecessary luxury. And last but not least, bring a pair of binoculars.
Birds, birds, birds
Most tourists in Iceland have the Atlantic puffin at the top of their list of birds they would like to see. Check out this article if you want to know more about the puffin. Or book a puffin watching tour.
Even though we love the puffin, there are so many other amazing birds in Iceland. What do you think of razorbills, arctic terns, common snipes, northern fulmars and even white-tailed eagles and snowy owls (though rare)?
The list doesn’t end there – you can spot greater scaups, tufted ducks, gadwalls, common eider ducks, whooper swans and golden plovers. The golden plover is a much-loved bird, as each year it is welcomed as the herald of spring.
The official bird of Iceland is the gyrfalcon. For centuries, Icelandic gyrfalcons were captured and sold as hunting birds for Europe’s elite. While the demand for hunting falcons has dropped, the falcon is still a symbol of Iceland. For example, the national order of Iceland, of which the president of Iceland is the designated Grand Master, is called the Order of the Falcon.
The rock ptarmigan is a bird in the grouse family. In summertime, it has brown plumage and in wintertime, the feathers change to a snowy white colour. This bird is a popular part of Icelandic Christmas dinner. However, because of its fluctuating population, hunting is banned from time to time, and is otherwise restricted to selected weekends. Plus, all trade of rock ptarmigan is illegal.
Even Reykjavík and neighbouring Seltjarnarnes can be good locations for spotting birds. In the ocean and nesting areas around the city, you can spot eider ducks, razorbills, fulmars, ravens, arctic terns and puffins without too much trouble. A boat tour from Reykjavík is recommended if you want to see all of these birds.
If you want to venture out of the city, you might want to head to the Westfjords. The bird cliffs at Látrabjarg are famous for their excellent bird-watching properties. The high cliffs offer birds a safe home, protected from foxes and predators, causing millions of birds to go there for the nesting season. Check out this tour if you would like to see the birds at Látrabjarg.
In North Iceland, lake Mývatn is a paradise for bird-watchers, with over seventy species being recorded in the past years. 14 of the 16 duck species nesting in Iceland can be found in the lake.
Puffins and other seabirds are easily spotted on the south coast at the Dyrhólaey cliffs and on the cliffs of the Westman Islands.
The isolated highlands of Iceland are also a good spot for birders, even though they can be more difficult to reach. Among the species found there are the pink-footed goose and gyrfalcons.
Have fun birding this summer!