Bird Watching in Iceland
Iceland is famous for its birds – and not only the human variety. The country in the North Atlantic attracts millions of migratory birds every year in a unique geographical blend.
Mostly typical of Western European species, Iceland also attracts a fascinating mix of North American and Arctic species – as well as plenty of even more exotic (often blown off course) accidental visitors.
So, if you’re booking flights to Iceland, spare a thought for the thousands of other creatures doing the same thing, without the help of jet power!
There is a hardcore group of interesting species which stays in Iceland all year round; and an even harder-core group of migratory birds which are only here for the winters (crazy birdbrains). This means that there is always a good reason for birders to get a-twitchin’.
The main reason for birding in Iceland over the spring and summer, however, is not perhaps the number of species on offer; it is rather the sheer number of individual birds you will see. Iceland has the biggest and most crowded seabird nesting cliffs in Europe – including of course, the world’s biggest puffin colony. Everyone loves puffins.
The casual birdwatcher will be able to get to within two or three metres of puffins, and even closer to nesting eider ducks, most likely while being dive bombed by angry Arctic terns and seemingly followed by slow, graceful, almost shadowlike fulmars. Heck, you’ll even find thousands of birds in Reykjavík City. Taking bread to the big pond can sometimes feel like wearing Lady Gaga’s famous meat dress to your local dog shelter!
The serious birder will be no less impressed. There is a natural bias towards water birds during the Icelandic summer, with the main emphasis perhaps on sea birds, ducks, geese and waders. But some of the most prized twitches include the gyrfalcon and the white tailed eagle. And don’t ignore the many meadow birds.
The variety of birdlife in Iceland has shot up in the last 50 to 100 years thanks to all the new forests and the warming climate. Stray songbirds carried by winds have been able to establish themselves; and many are now resident breeding species. Europe’s smallest bird, the goldcrest, is a good example. As are redwings and starlings.
As the seasons are so vivid and important in Iceland, there are particularly two bird species close to people’s hearts: the golden plover and the raven. The golden plover is a conspicuous and punctual early spring arrival to the country and when they arrive it actually raises the nation’s spirits – strange as that sounds. On the other hand, the raven is loved (although rarely by farmers) for being such a conspicuous and seemingly loyal companion throughout the lonely winter. In fact, in their search for food they practically move into towns alongside people, while they prefer open countryside in the summer.