Birds in Iceland

We were fortunate enough to visit Iceland for a few days in 2016. While at the time I was not yet totally immersed in my new hobby of bird watching, we did snap a few bird photos that I thought it would be fun to share. According to our guidebook (The Rough Guide to Iceland 2010), Iceland is home to over three hundred species of birds.

These photos were all taken on our first full day in Iceland, the only time we visited ocean coastline on our visit. We were just north of the airport, on the peninsula visiting the Garðskagi lighthouse. The tide was out, so we decided to walk along the beach. That was were we saw a few of the local feathered inhabitants.

One of the species we saw, sitting among the sea-smoothed pebbles and the seaweed was the Eider or Common Eider. There are four different varieties of Eider, but the Common Eider is the largest, making it the largest duck found in Europe. They can grow to be up to 28 inches long. The birds we saw were all female and some of them had fuzzy new chicks nearby. Fairly dull and brown, I think their most interesting feature is the shape of their bill which Collins Bird Guide refers to as “wedge-shaped.” Eiders or Æðarfugl as they are called in Icelandic, like salt or brackish water were they hunt crustaceans and mollusks.

We also spotted another common coastal bird, the Sanderling. Known to migrate to the arctic for the breeding season, they are not year-round residents of this island nation. When we observed them, they were poking around in the seaweed, looking for something tasty to eat. Eventually they wandered further down the beach.

It was the third species we encountered which made the greatest impression. The Arctic Tern, or Kria as they are known in Iceland were everywhere. According to our guidebook, summer is when “flat, open places around the coast are utilized by colossal numbers of ground-nesting Arctic Terns.” We drove right though one such Tern Colony and I was able to video our slow journey as we waited for each bird to leave the ground.

I know that my visit to Iceland was not nearly as bird-filled as it could have been. It is still one of my my greatest regrets that we did not take a puffin boat tour while we were there. Maybe one day I will have an opportunity to go back. The second time around I would spend more time on the coast and in the countryside.

Besides my Iceland guidebook which I listed earlier, I also referenced Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe 2009.

One thought on “Birds in Iceland

  1. If you’re ever back in the UK, take a day boat trip out to the Farne Islands, if you go at the right time you can see all three species in some abundance there, plus puffins, cormorants and various other species. If you are able to land on one of the islands you might well have the added experience of being ‘dive bombed’ by aggressive terns, so take a big hat.


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