If you like birds, Iceland is a good country for you to visit. 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. In spring and summer, you can find a lot of birds on large cliffs along Iceland’s coastline. In this article, we will tell you what kind of seabirds in Iceland you can spot on these bird cliffs.

Puffins

Puffins Iceland
Photo by Berglind Jóhanns.

Most visitors can’t wait to see the Atlantic puffin in Iceland. It’s a small bird known for its black and white suit and colourful beak, part of the auk family. Puffins spend most of their time at sea, but they come to land to nest. Puffins don’t need trees to build their nests. They like digging holes instead, up to a metre deep. When burrowing is not possible, they build nests in cracks and cavities of cliffs. Puffins return to the same nesting sites every year, sometimes even using the same burrows, and young puffins are faithful to the nesting site where they hatched.

Guillemots

Seabirds in Iceland: What birds can you spot on Icelandic bird cliffs?

Just like puffins, guillemots are part of the auk family. They are small black birds of about 35cm with black bodies with a white wing patch, a thin black bill, and red feet. Guillemots breed close to the arctic circle and spend their winters south close to the British Isles, Maine, and the Bering Strait. During breeding season, they lay two spotted eggs, preferably in a crevice on a cliff close to water, where the chicks remain for about six weeks after hatching until they can fly. They’re one of the bird species breeding on volcanic island Surtsey, which was formed from 1963-1967. Their diet consists of fish, crustaceans, molluscs, insects, and plants.

Razorbills

Seabirds in Iceland: What birds can you spot on Icelandic bird cliffs?

Razorbills are small, colonial seabirds that mostly live in the Atlantic Ocean. Just like puffins and guillemots, they are part of the auk family. They are the closest living relative of the great auk, which has been extinct since the middle of the 19th century when Icelandic fishermen killed the last two birds on Eldey. Razorbills are mostly black, and they have a white underside. They’re good at flying and diving and spend most of their time on the ocean. They only come to land to breed, laying one egg per year. Razorbills make their nests on cliffs in completely or partly enclosed crevices. They choose a partner for life and are monogamous. The parents both spend equal time on the egg and afterwards take turns foraging the hatchling.

Kittiwakes

Seabirds in Iceland: What birds can you spot on Icelandic bird cliffs?

Kittiwakes are part of the gull family. They look a bit like small seagulls, with a white head and body, a grey back, grey wings with a black tip, and a yellow bill. They are around 40cm. Kittiwakes breed in coastal areas in the North Pacific, North Atlantic, and Arctic oceans. They breed in large, dense colonies in summer, and often share their nesting ground with guillemots. They are the only gull species that exclusively nests on cliffs.

Fulmars

Seabirds in Iceland: What birds can you spot on Icelandic bird cliffs?

Fulmars are seagull-like birds, but they are easily distinguished from seagulls when looking at their shorter, straighter wings, and tube noses. They can live up to 40 years, which is a long time for a bird. They breed on cliffs, and usually lay one egg, on bare rock or grassy cliffsides. Most of their time is spent at sea, feeding on fish, molluscs, and shrimp, and only spend time on cliffs during the breeding season.

Gannets

Seabirds in Iceland: What birds can you spot on Icelandic bird cliffs?

Gannets are large seabirds, they’re mostly white and have pale yellow heads, a black tip on their wings and long, distinctive bills. With a wingspan of up to 2m, Northern gannets are the largest seabirds in the North Atlantic. Gannets can dive into the water from up to 30m with speed of 100kmh and hunt their prey underwater. To be able to do this, they have no external nostrils, air sacs in their face and chest under the skin which act bubble wrap, and their eyes are positioned far enough forward for binocular vision so they can judge distances accurately. Gannets are colonial birds, breeding on islands and in coastal areas. They lay one blue egg, which they keep warm with their webbed feet instead of a brood patch. Gannets are born black, and in the first years of their lives their turn whiter each year, until reaching adulthood at five years.

Mariska Moerland
Mariska Moerland

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