Iceland has a diverse family of birds. Not only that you’ll also be able to enjoy its serene beauty on your bird watching trips as well.
Iceland is well-known among bird watchers for its diversity. There are 85 species of domestic and foreign birds in Iceland. It hosts nearly 278 species of birds every year.
People around the world love to visit Iceland to see its vast collection of beautiful bird species.
Best Places for Watching Birds in Iceland
There are particular places in Iceland with exquisite sites of bird watching. You’ll get to see the most popular birds of Iceland if you visit one of them.
Snæfellsnes (Pronounced Snai-fells-nes) is one of the notable places for bird watching in Iceland. This prominent birding spot is located on the West Coast of the Peninsula. You can see diverse species of birds all-round the year on this island. It’s such a beautiful scene to watch puffins line up by the edge of the cliffs in Snæfellsnes.
You can look out for wild fowls. These wild fowls are found on the lakes of the south shore. Moreover, you’ll also get to see kittiwakes at the basalt columns. These are the most admirable sights to see.
The pillars of Lóndrangar are one of the best birdwatching locations in the region. Moreover, you’ll find species such as black-legged kittiwake, northern fulmar, puffins, and common murre breeding on the cliff faces of the rock stacks.
If you visit Snæfellsnes in winter, you’ll get the sight of an occasional king eider among the common ones. You’ll also see a white tailor eagle sitting on the volcanic cliffs or towering over the valleys.
Birds like purple sandpipers, harlequin ducks, and long-tail ducks are also visible from the coast. The beautiful scenario of flocks of snow bunting clustering together at the feeding station of town is something that you wouldn’t want to miss.
Now I am going to discuss the most isolated and underdeveloped area, Westfjords. Westfjords is the perfect place to go for bird watching. Látrabjarg cliff on the north side of Westfjords is the home of two of the largest birds in Iceland.
Látrabjarg truly justifies the beauty of the Westfjords. The birds fly around in flocks and gather on the cliff, making it an incredible scenario. However, due to birds’ nesting near the ridge, the cliff walls can be fragile on edge. The bird watchers are encouraged to stay away from the cliffs.
Westfjords has many remarkable places for bird watching. Vigur is an island in the Westfjords where you’ll find Arctic Skuas. But visitors have to stay alert of Arctic Skuas because they are known to be aggressive at times. Eider Ducks are also seen in this region. These ducks reside close to residents for their protection from Arctic Skuas.
Reykhólar is one of the notable places in Westjords for birdwatching. A large number of birds reside in Reykhólar.
White-Tailed Eagle is an ancient yet famous resident of Westjfords. It is situated in Westfjords. This organization aims to preserve and promote the number of White-Tailed Eagles in Iceland.
3. Reykjanes Peninsula & Gardskagi
Gardskagi is a renowned birding spot situated in Reykjanes Peninsula. This spot is mainly known for its staging post for migrant birds. During the time of Late April and May, many foreign birds fly here.
There are great flocks of sanderling, ruddy turnstone, purple sandpiper, and dunlin lines around the shore. Moreover, the lines of these foreign birds could be seen from the flights.
If you are a hardcore bird lover, you should make a stop off at Hafnaberg cliff. On the South of Hafnaberg cliff, you can see seabirds.
Reykjanes Peninsula tops off in the winter with abundant harlequin ducks, northern and red-throated divers on the shore. Also, look out for gyrfalcon flying over your head. They might prey on you.
4. Lake Mývatn
Lake Mývatn is one of the best bird-watching spots in Iceland. It’s a volcanic yet beautiful place that offers a mesmerizing view of birds and their surroundings. It is said that there are more species of ducks in the Mývatn to Laxá River than in any other place in the world.
Langanes is located in the country’s northeast, at 40 kilometers (25 miles) in length. At Langanes, visitors may observe an incredible number of Icelandic Kittiwakes, Auks, and Guillemots.
You can also get the sight of the rare Brunnich’s Guillemot. Langanes is the home to the third biggest nesting place for Gannets in the world.
As a bird lover, you should visit Reykjavík. You’ll witness the diverse birdlife of Iceland on this spot. The diversity inside and outside Reykjavík city will make you speechless.
Dunlin, Black-Tailed Godwit and the Snipe wander around the wetlands of Úlfarsárdalur. When you go deeper inside the valley, you’ll see Golden Plovers and Meadow Pipits. On the river, you’ll find Tufted Ducks, Mallards, and Greylag Geese.
The first sight of the Golden Plover’s arrival is considered the sign of summer in Iceland. Additionally, in Reykjavík, you can explore many spots. All the locations are unique and display a variety of birds.
The wetlands around Elliavatn Lake are another great site to view Whooper Swans, Teals, Mallards, Greylag Geese, and Tufted Ducks. During the summer, tourists may spot Arctic Terns. In contrast, the winter welcomes Widgeons, Goosanders, and Scaups to the lake.
The farmer at Gauksmyri has reclaimed their wetland area. As a result, they successfully preserved the wildlife for the visitors. You can visit the Gauksmyri nature reserve to see whooper swans, Slavonian grebe, and red-necked phalaropes.
A variety of birds like golden plover, common snipe, and whimbrels are seen in the surroundings. You can stay near the natural reserve and enjoy the beautiful flocks of birds.
Just like Westfjords, The Eastfjords are also isolated from the mainlands of Iceland. Eastfjords makes it a perfect place for bird watchers.
The Fljótsdalshéras Coast is home to the largest breeding colony of Arctic Skuas in the world. There are Looms, Great Skuas, Geese, Swans, and Waders on the coast.
You can visit the island of Papey, which is a top spot for puffins. Puffins are very friendly birds. They easily mix with the visitors. Although you can see, there are lots of places in Iceland where you can see puffins. Still, this bird is worth paying a visit.
Skrúður is well-known for its gannet colony and mythical status in Icelandic mythology. There are many remarkable places in the Eastfjords with large colonies of birds.
8. Thingvellir National Park
If you are planning for a day tour, then you can look out for Thingvellir National Park. It is Iceland’s biggest lake, and its meadows are perfect for visiting on a day tour. In this area, you’ll get the sight of tufted duck, harlequin duck, whooper swan, northern diver.
There are some other species of birds like- Barrow’s goldeneye, goosander, and red-breasted merganser. It’s also a very great habitat for merlin, black-tailed godwit, redwing, arctic tern, snow bunting, whimbrel, and gyrfalcon. Close from the Althing assembly location, walking paths hug the shoreline and penetrate the birch scrub.
9. Borgarfjordur Eystri
Borgarfjordur Eystri is situated at the farthest northeast corner of Iceland. It takes time to reach this isolated village at the end of the road. For people who are fans of puffins, I have a piece of great news for you. This place is full of friendly puffins standing straight with beaks full of eels.
You’ll also see common eiders and kittiwakes nesting around the rocky outcrops by the harbor. After watching the puffins, you can also enjoy the rugged peaks that frame the fjord or go for a stroll since it’s one of the best walking areas in Iceland.
10. Jokulsarlon & Vatnajokull National Park
While the Iceberg Lagoon is stunning in its own right, spend some time exploring the area’s biodiversity. You’ll see so many Seals and Arctic Terns in this region. Common eider, red-throated divers, Brent Geese, and Snow Blunting are also visible by the roadside ponds.
Great skuas breed in the sandy plains on the south of Iceland’s biggest icecap. You must not go too near their nests. Skaftafell’s birch woods attract redwing and Icelandic winter wren, and simple hikes across moorland and moraine will lead you to glacier views.
11. Papey and Djupivogur
The fishing village on the east coast of Djupivogur is surrounded by ponds and wetlands. A reserve ambiance is created by the natives to make the region perfect for bird hide.
In the spring and autumn season, the visitors can see an abundance of shoveler, Shelduck, Slavonian grebe, and other migrant birds. These birds also breed in this region. You can pay a visit to ‘Eggin I Gledivik’, the enormous bird egg sculptures on the harbor wall. The puffin island of Papey lies just offshore, as are the glaciated peaks and finger-like valleys.
Which Seasons are the Best for Bird Watching in Iceland?
Summer is the best season to bird watch in Iceland. Mentionable Late May and June is the prime time for the tourists. During this time, all migrating birds visit Iceland. They are seen in pairs, and they defend their territories together. Winters in the west and south may be pleasant for the birds.
People who are passionate about birdwatching visit Iceland during April and May. Nesting season starts in full swing during this time. So, late May and June is the peak time for the birdwatchers. During this time, you can experience a combination of species, plumage, and weather.
So, this is the prime time to go birdwatching. You’ll encounter various species of birds. The Golden Plover, which arrives in April, is a sign of spring. The daylight persists more during this time so that the birdwatchers can go all day long.
By mid-May, the countryside is vibrant with bird songs, including Snipe, Whimbrel, and Redwing choruses. A significant variety of birds are migratory birds that arrive in the spring and depart in the fall. Additionally, some birds come to breed. There are birds like some geese and waders who visit to eat on their journey back and forth to the High Arctic.
The weather is going to be optimal. But by the end of August, the number of birds reduces drastically. The worst time you could go birdwatching is from late November to January. The number of birds is very low during this time.
Winter comes with adverse weather conditions. Due to minimal daylight, it’s going to be tough for the birdwatchers. You can look out for Rock Ptarmigan in its winter attire during this time.
What are the Best Birds for Bird Watching in Iceland?
If you mention bird watching in Iceland, the first bird that will come to your mind is the Atlantic Puffins. Apart from that, approximately 85 species nest around Iceland all year long. It is said that around 330 species of migrating birds have visited Iceland to date.
In this segment, I am going to talk about the birds of Iceland. Iceland is a popular bird watching destination because it has a beautiful collection of birds.
Iceland is famous for its abundance of Atlantic Puffins. They nest from May to September in Iceland. This country has 8-10 million puffins, including the biggest colony on the Vestmannaeyjar Islands, where the birds have become a way of life.
Nearly 60% of the population resides in Iceland. They dig their nests in grassy regions between cliffs. The best time to spot an Atlantic Puffin is between May and August. There is a colony of Atlantic Puffins on a tiny island just outside of Reykjavik port.
The Atlantic Puffins dig their burrows by shoveling dirt with their beaks and feet. The Westfjords’ Látrabjarg cliffs are an excellent location to see puffins. Although the area is kind of remote, the birds are very friendly. You can click pictures with them. But don’t go near the cliffs as they are very low.
An adult Atlantic puffin is 18 cm long and weighs 500 g. The brightly colored beaks of these tiny birds set them apart from other birds.
Places where you can find Atlantic Puffins:
- Latrabjarg Cliffs
- Snaefellsnes Peninsula
- Papey Island
- Southern coast- Dyrholaey rock
- Tjornes Peninsula
- Ingolfshofdi Nature Reserve
The Gyrfalcon is the national bird of Iceland. Because of this reason, they are seen almost in every region of Iceland. Gyrfalcon is the largest species of falcon with a 160 cm wingspan.
Gyrfalcons have been employed in falconry for generations. Icelandic gyrfalcons are the world’s most distinctive species, with pale, uniform plumage and precise hunting records. As a result, they were a valued export in medieval Icelandic commerce with rich Europeans.
Gyrfalcons feed on ducks and owls. They are excellent hunters, so it’s easier for them to pluck the birds out of their territories. For a fact, female Gyrfalcons are bulkier than male gyrfalcons. Their population is marked 300-400 pairs in Iceland.
Gyrfalcons breed in pairs and nest on the cliffs. They do not make their nests. Instead, they use bare cliffs and abandoned nests of other birds.
Places where you can find Gyrfalcons:
- Jökulsárgljúfur in north Vatnajökull National Park
- Dettifoss Canyon
The nation’s biggest bird, the white-tailed eagle, is a beautiful example of a huge magnificent bird. The white-tailed eagle was almost extinct in Europe. Persistent conservation efforts have nearly restored the population of these creatures.
Summer is the perfect time to visit Iceland to see a white-tailed eagle. Seatours from Stykkishólmur offer great summer boat trips to view this species. In winter, you can spot a white-tailed eagle but not in abundance. Moreover, they can be seen by the Sog River in southwest Iceland. You may also attempt to get a peek along the western shore.
The white-tailed eagle’s prey on birds of prey like snowy owls. Apart from that, they prey on rodents, fish, and other small birds. As a matter of fact, white-tailed eagles also hunt lambs.
Icelandic white-tailed eagles are regal. However, the species was on the verge of extinction in the late 1800s. Strict safety precautions were made to preserve the birds from extinction. It is forbidden to go within 500m of white-tailed eagles.
There are about 87 eagle couples in Iceland, most of which live in the picturesque Breidafjordur. The white-tailed eagle mates for life, and if one spouse dies, it may take years trying to find another. Westfjords’ white-tailed eagle center is a great place to see these magnificent birds.
Places where you can find White-tailed eagles:
- West coast
- Reykjavík around Hvalfjörður
If you’ve been driving through Iceland’s countryside, you’ve probably heard the Common Snipe’s unique chirping. Although it is timid and hides near the ground, the Snipe is easily identified by its long, pointed beak, hunting for worms and insects.
During mating season, the male performs a fascinating mating dance, tracing circles before shallow diving. It sounds like a sheep/goat, and its tail feathers vibrate to provide Icelandic summer’s music.
In Icelandic mythology, the Common Snipe was said to be able to anticipate the arrival of spring. In addition, it was good luck if it came from the East or South, but bad luck from the West or North.
Places where you can find common snipes:
- South Coast
If you are a Harry Potter fan, you must’ve seen a snowy owl. Snowy owls are raptors that are rare in Iceland. We see them approximately ten times a year. Therefore, seeing these birds is considered a great treat for bird lovers.
Snowy Owls eat rock ptarmigans, which are a festive dish for Icelanders. They are one of the country’s most elusive creatures.
There are several reasons behind the rarity of snow owls. They don’t breed in Iceland due to the scarcity of food elements. Moreover, Iceland is not a suitable feeding ground for snowy owls. Their superb snow camouflage, quiet flight, and abundance in the winter months make them difficult to track.
Places where you can find Snowy Owl:
- The Highlands
Golden Plover is considered as the sign of spring in Iceland. Every year, between March 20th and 30th, a photograph of this colorful species’ initial appearance emerges in the national media.
The Golden Plover’s presence in the nation created a buzz due to environmental concerns. The arrival of the golden plover signals the end of the hard winter and the beginning of the summer. As a matter of fact, this bird has inspired songs and poetry, and the name Lóa is common among Icelandic ladies. Golden Plovers inhabit Iceland’s freshwater bodies.
One of the most distinctive features of this tiny bird is a white S-shaped band running from the brow to the side. Golden Plovers are renowned for their bright colors and one repeating chirp. Worms are their primary food and are challenging to get while it’s snowing. Therefore, golden plovers only visit Iceland in the spring-summer-fall seasons.
Places where you can find Golden Plover:
- Lake Þingvallavatn
- Lake Mývatn
Golden plovers reside near freshwater bodies. So, apart from the mentioned places, you can look for them near freshwater.
The Arctic Terns have one of the world’s longest migration paths between Antarctica and Iceland every year. Every year they fly 80,000 km to mate and hatch in Iceland in the summer and then return to Antarctica.
An Arctic Tern may fly three times around the moon in its lifespan, a vast distance to travel. Hence, they get the most sunshine of any living species.
The terns are highly protective of their nest and may attack people who approach it. When going through an arctic tern nesting habitat, you should carry a long stick to hold over your head. The arctic tern lays one to three eggs, and both sexes help hatch them.
When there is a disturbance or danger to a solo Arctic Tern, the entire colony rises and descends to defend the bird. Their razor-sharp talons and beaks may inflict serious injury.
Places where you can find Arctic Terns:
- Reykjavík city
- Grótta lighthouse on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula
- Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
Northern fulmars are one of the country’s year-round species. Iceland has two fulmar species. One is primarily white with grey spots, while the other is grey throughout. They are differentiated from seagulls by their larger necks, shorter beak, and stiff wings while flying.
Unlike most other Icelandic birds, the Northern Fulmar has up to five million mating pairs in the winter. The number of breeding pairs in Iceland is decreasing, bucking global trends. Despite that, in the summer, birdwatchers can see up to 2 million northern fulmars.
The Northern Fulmar generates a high-energy stomach oil to recharge, feed chicks, and repel predators. This oil is smelly, difficult to remove, and thick enough to clog bigger birds’ feathers, causing death.
Places where you can find Northern Fulmar
- Látrabjarg in the Westfjords
- Krýsuvíkurbjarg on the Reykjanes Peninsula
Common eiders reside near locality. Common Eider is the only duck species in Iceland, which stays at sea throughout the year. But when it’s the time for nesting, they move towards the inland. Also, before laying eggs, the female eider plucks down from her breast to insulate the nest.
The eider down’s harvest is an important industry in Iceland, farmers taking care of eiders by building dedicated shelters on coast islets to protect them from predators. Eiderdown is prized for its softness and lightness. People use them for filling premium pillows and duvets.
Places where you can find Common Eider:
- Flatey Island
- Héðinshöfði cape
- River Laxá
Unlike most other birds on this list, the Rock Ptarmigan spends the whole year in Iceland. It uses its seasonal camouflage for defense, which is brown in the summer and white in the winter.
A favorite dish on festival buffets in Iceland is Rock Ptarmigan. Unlike other birds in the nation, Rock Ptarmigans tend to stroll rather than fly. They utilize their environment to hide from predators. They feed on berries, seeds, buds, and insects and prefer greater altitudes than other Icelandic birds.
Places where you can find Rock Ptarmigans:
- Hrísey Island in the North Coast
- Skaftafell Nature Reserve