Welcome, fellow birdwatchers, and wildlife enthusiasts! If you’re wondering where to see puffins in Iceland in 2024, you’re in the right place. This picturesque Nordic island is the summer home to over half of the world’s population of the Atlantic puffin.
Known for their vibrant, multicolored beaks and their striking black and white plumage, puffins have earned the affectionate moniker of “sea parrots.” Join us as we explore the puffin’s captivating world and discover the prime spots to watch these adorable seabirds in their natural habitat.
All About Puffins
The Atlantic puffin, scientifically known as Fratercula arctica, is a small bird that belongs to the auk family. Despite their somewhat clumsy waddle on land, puffins are incredibly adept in water and air. They can fly at speeds up to 55 miles per hour and are excellent swimmers, diving to depths of up to 200 feet to catch small fish and herring.
Puffins are famous for their brightly colored beaks, which reach peak vibrancy in the summer mating season. They use these large beaks to skillfully catch and carry multiple fish at once – a necessary skill during the breeding season when they must feed their pufflings.
Puffins nest in burrows on cliff edges or offshore islands, making Iceland’s rugged coastline the perfect environment for them. They are monogamous, often mating with the same partner for life, and return to the same burrows year after year to lay their single egg.
One of the most endearing aspects of puffins is their social behavior. They are very communal birds, nesting in large groups called colonies, and can often be seen interacting with one another using a series of complex and amusing behaviors. From bill-tapping to echoing deep growls, puffin behavior is just as fascinating as their striking appearance. Now that we know more about these charming birds, let’s discover where to see puffins in Iceland.
Puffin Habitats in Iceland
In Iceland, puffins make their home along the coast, nesting in rocky cliffs and small islands scattered around the country. They choose areas that are safe from predators, offer an abundance of small fish for feeding, and provide loose soil or grass for burrowing. The coastal regions of Iceland, with their rich marine life and numerous small islands, are an ideal habitat for puffins.
The Westman Islands, located off Iceland’s south coast, host one of the largest puffin colonies in the world. Here, the steep cliffs and isolated islands provide an excellent environment for nesting. The islands also host an annual Puffin Festival, highlighting their importance to the region.
In the Westfjords region, the Látrabjarg cliffs stretch for miles and reach heights of up to 440 meters, making it one of the three largest bird cliffs in Iceland. Puffins, along with many other seabird species, are drawn to these towering sea cliffs, especially during the summer breeding season.
Further north, the Tjörnes peninsula is another notable puffin habitat. This location is unique as the puffins nest in burrows in the grassy hills rather than on cliff edges.
In East Iceland, Papey Island is a haven for puffins. The uninhabited island boasts a large puffin population, making it a favorite destination for birdwatchers.
Each of these locations offers a unique setting to observe puffins in their natural environment, so the decision of where to see puffins in Iceland often depends on the timing of your visit and your overall travel itinerary. In the next section, we will explore the best puffin spotting locations by region.
The Best Puffin Spotting Locations In Each Region of Iceland
When it comes to finding the best places to see puffins in Iceland, every region has something unique to offer. These birds prefer nesting in specific environments, making certain locations more conducive to puffin spotting than others. Let’s explore some top puffin viewing spots across the various regions of Iceland.
Capital Region (Reykjavik, etc)
In the Capital Region, puffins are most often sighted around the island of Lundey, also known as Puffin Island, located off the coast of Reykjavik. Boat tours depart regularly from the old harbour during puffin season, offering birdwatchers a close-up view of these charming creatures.
The towering Látrabjarg Cliffs in the Westfjords region are a magnet for puffins and birdwatchers alike. It’s one of the largest bird cliffs in Iceland and, during the summer months, visitors can get within arm’s reach of the puffins as they are quite fearless of humans.
Dyrhólaey Peninsula, located near the town of Vík in South Iceland, is another notable spot. With its magnificent arch rock and expansive views of the ocean, Dyrhólaey provides a beautiful backdrop for puffin watching.
The Westman Islands, home to one of the world’s largest puffin colonies, are a must-visit. Specifically, the island of Heimaey boasts numerous puffin nesting sites, and there’s even a Puffin Rescue Centre dedicated to the care and study of these birds.
Tjörnes Peninsula in North Iceland is a great puffin sighting location. Puffins here choose to nest in burrows in the grassy hills, offering a unique viewing experience compared to the usual cliffside habitats.
Finally, in East Iceland, Papey Island stands out. Known for its large puffin population, a visit to Papey will not only allow you to see puffins but also the charming wooden church and the lighthouse that adorn this uninhabited island. The island is accessible via boat tours departing from the town of Djúpivogur.
Finding Puffins In Iceland By Month
Timing your visit appropriately is key to a successful puffin sighting experience in Iceland. Puffins are migratory birds, meaning they aren’t present in Iceland year-round. Understanding their seasonal patterns will help you plan your trip effectively.
- March: Puffins are usually still at sea during this time and sightings are rare. It marks the end of the winter season, and the birds are gradually beginning to return to their breeding grounds.
- April: Sightings become more common as the month progresses, with puffins starting to arrive in Iceland in larger numbers to begin nesting.
- May: This is when puffin season really kicks off, with many puffins visible on cliffs and islands as they settle into their nests. Birdwatching tours also start around this time.
- June: This is one of the best times to spot puffins, as the birds are actively nesting and feeding their young.
- July: Puffin sighting is at its peak during July. The birds are highly active, and the weather conditions are generally favorable for boat trips and cliffside observations.
- August: The puffin activity continues to be high, but starts to decrease towards the end of the month as puffins prepare to leave for the open ocean.
- September: The early part of the month might still offer some puffin sightings before the birds head out to sea for the winter, but by the end of September, most puffins have left.
- October and November: Puffin sightings are highly unlikely during these months, as puffins are typically at sea during the autumn and winter months.
- December–February: During the winter months, puffins are out at sea and not visible on the Icelandic shores. It’s a period of rest for the cliffs and islands that host these birds during the warmer months.
Responsible Puffin Watching
As with all forms of wildlife watching, it’s important to enjoy puffin spotting in a responsible manner that respects the birds and their habitats. Puffins are not endangered, but they are protected by law in Iceland due to declining numbers in certain areas. The puffin colonies on land are sensitive during breeding season, and disturbing these areas can have harmful effects on the puffin populations.
Here are some tips for responsible puffin watching:
- Maintain a Respectful Distance: Avoid getting too close to the puffins or their nests. Use binoculars or a zoom lens to observe them from a distance.
- Do Not Feed the Puffins: Feeding wild birds can disrupt their natural feeding habits and may lead to health problems.
- Avoid Disturbing Nesting Sites: Stick to marked paths and respect closed off areas. Disturbing puffin burrows can lead to nest abandonment or cause harm to eggs and chicks.
- Follow Guidelines and Local Regulations: Always adhere to the guidelines provided by local authorities or tour operators. They are designed to ensure the safety of both visitors and wildlife.
Other Bird Species to Look Out For
Iceland’s birdlife isn’t just about puffins. The country is a birdwatcher’s paradise, home to a variety of bird species that offer great birdwatching opportunities.
- Guillemots: These seabirds are similar to puffins and often share the same cliffs. Both Common Guillemots and Black Guillemots can be found in Iceland.
- Arctic Terns: These migratory birds travel incredible distances and choose Iceland as their breeding ground. Be cautious around their nesting areas as they are known to be fiercely protective.
- Gyrfalcons: The Gyrfalcon, Iceland’s national bird, is the largest species of falcon in the world and a thrilling sight for birdwatchers.
- Gannets: With their impressive wingspans and high-speed dives, gannets are a spectacular sight. They can often be seen off the coasts.
- Eider Ducks: These ducks are commonly seen in Iceland. The females are known for their eiderdown, which they pluck from their own chests to line their nests.
Remember to bring your binoculars and a good field guide to help identify these and other birds you may encounter during your visit.
Frequently Asked Questions About Puffins in Iceland
- When is the best time to see puffins in Iceland? Puffins can usually be seen in Iceland from late April to September. They are most active during the summer months of June, July, and August, when they come to shore to breed and raise their young.
- Can I get close to puffins? While puffins are known for being fairly tolerant of humans, it’s essential to maintain a respectful distance to avoid causing them stress or disrupting their natural behavior. Do not attempt to touch or feed them.
- Can I see puffins anywhere in Iceland? Puffins are found in many parts of Iceland, but there are certain areas where they are more likely to be seen. These include the Westman Islands, Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords, and Dyrhólaey peninsula in South Iceland, among others.
- Are puffins in Iceland all year round? No, puffins are not in Iceland all year round. They spend most of the year out at sea, only returning to land for the breeding season from late April to September.
- Are there organized tours for puffin watching in Iceland? Yes, there are various organized tours in Iceland that specifically focus on puffin watching. These can be especially helpful for first-time visitors, as guides can provide expert insight and know the best locations for spotting these birds.
Our Final Thoughts on Puffins in Iceland
Puffin spotting is one of the many unique experiences that make a trip to Iceland truly memorable. These charming birds, with their distinctive appearance and fascinating behaviors, captivate the hearts of locals and visitors alike.
Knowing where to see puffins in Iceland, understanding their habits, and observing them responsibly ensures that future generations will continue to enjoy this wonderful spectacle. Whether you’re a dedicated birdwatcher or simply a nature lover, the sight of puffins against the backdrop of Iceland’s stunning landscapes is an encounter not to be missed.