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Puffins – Where to Watch in Iceland

Puffins Iceland

Image Source: File Photo

Puffin best spots in Iceland

Puffins! Delightful puffins, with their black-and-white plumage, short wings, and colourful beaks.

Come to think of it, if it weren’t for the beaks, they’d be discount penguins, but when judging between the two regarding appearance, they make for an even match-up.

Puffins mainly spend their winters at sea but return to the coasts to breed, and Iceland plays host to over half of the world’s population of Atlantic puffins. The birds return to the same colony they hatched from, and are also very social, and thus some spots become excellent places to watch for puffins.

Playful Puffin

File Photo

For those who’ve just arrived in Iceland, or who aren’t of the mind to go too far from Reykjavik, there’s no need to worry. Two particular islands in the bay, Akurey and Lundey, play host to large colonies of seabirds. Arctic terns, fulmars, and black guillemots are in great evidence, and of course, there’s always puffins; indeed, Lundey means ‘Puffin Island’. At most, they’re fifteen minutes’ sail away from the city, and in the summer, you can count on not only a guarantee of seeing puffins but also for the companies to operate multiple tours a day. Being in Reykjavik and miss the occasion to closely watch the puffins from a boat? You don’t want to regret missed chance for a lifetime experience.

Vik i Myrdal: Puffins In Black

This southern village, more familiarly known as Vik, is the centre of southern Iceland, and any real tour of the south inevitably comes to Vik one way or another. Very close to the village is the volcanic beach of Reynisfjara and the arched peninsula of Dyrholaey. Off the coast lie basalt columns, the Reynisdrangar; the stacks and Dyrholaey are home to birdlife in great numbers.

The view is picturesque like nothing else, but be careful while traversing the beach; the waves are nowhere near peaceful, and one of them can come up without warning. Dangers aside, this stretch of the coast shouldn’t be missed if you’re exploring southern Iceland.

Puffin during eggs hatching

Image source: File Photo

Borgarfjorthur: Convenience and Variety

This particular fjord in East Iceland is a touch out of the way, but it’s well worth it for the avid bird-watcher. Ten thousand puffin pairs return there every summer, and about twenty bird species call Borgarfjorthur their home: some species of duck, divers, skuas, swans, and more. Even better, though, the harbour also has a hide from which one can observe the birds from quite close up. It’s a bit of a drive to get all the way to Borgarfjorthur, but it’s well worth it for the convenience of seeing so many birds without needing to disturb them.

Flatey: Flatland Puffins

Though the northern town of Husavik is better known for being the place for whale-watching in Iceland, there’s an island nearby that’s notable for its birds, boasting thirty different species that nest on the notably flat island. Yes, that’s what the name means. There’s also another Flatey island in Iceland; if you need to be specific, this one is Flatey in Skjalfandi Bay. Note, however, that there are no ferries to Flatey; you’ll have to go with a tour. There are also tours out of Husavik that combine both whale- and bird-watching.

Latrabjarg Cliffs: Close and Persona

The westernmost point of Iceland is also notable for being a bird haven of great numbers. Millions of birds come to the cliffs to nest, and in varying species as well; over a third of the global population of razorbills lives in Latrabjarg.

The great number of birds is thanks to the great number of species that live there, and a trip to Latrabjarg is a treat for any birdwatcher not just because of the variety, but also because you can get right up close to the birds themselves. Walk with extreme care, however; puffins have a habit of making burrows near the edge of the cliffs, and it’s a 440-meter drop if you go over the edge. Use your zoom and your telephoto lenses.

Watching puffins from boat

File Photo

Grimsey: Up North

If you’d really like something brisk, then there’s Grimsey Island right on the Arctic Circle, the northernmost part of Iceland under permanent habitation. It boasts a population of around a hundred humans, and in the summer, roughly one million birds, especially puffins. What it lacks in trees, it makes up for in myriad other vegetation, a lack of predators, and rich fishing grounds for the birds.

For those looking for other species, it’s not just puffins that nest at Grimsey; you can also find their cousins the black guillemot, the common murre, and the thick-billed murre, as well as razorbills, terns, white wagtails, and snow buntings. However, due to Grimsey’s colder temperatures, the birds tend to leave earlier; the best season is from the end of April up to the start of August.