Puffins are nicknamed “sea parrots” or “clown birds of the sea” due to their colorful beaks and their peculiar manner. In the winter, they spend their days at sea, but in the summer, they chill on the cliffs all over Iceland. Large Puffin colonies can be spotted in many places around the island. But the Puffins in Iceland are no strangers to striking a pose for photographers or giving visitors a show.
The cutest seabirds in the Northern Hemisphere are tough as nails and are not afraid to get up close and personal with visitors. To get the Puffins Iceland experience, you need to be respectful of these birds and go to the right places. In this article, we tell you all you need to know about these birds, where to find them, and when they do their things in Iceland.
What Are Puffin Birds?
This clever marine bird is officially named the Atlantic Puffin and is often called Arctic Puffin. It’s one of four Puffin species in the world and spends the wintertime out at sea, bobbing on the waves and diving for fish and other sea delicacies. Puffin birds are all over the North Atlantic Ocean and have been spotted all the way from the waters around Greenland to the Canary Islands. So, if you’ve ever wondered “to where do Puffin migrate from Iceland?”, now you know.
The Puffin Birds in Iceland
Iceland hosts 60% of global Atlantic puffins, with 2 million pairs residing there. Known in Icelandic as "lundar", the largest colony is in Westman Islands. In the summertime, the Puffin birds migrate to their nesting grounds all over the coastline of the North Atlantic Ocean. This is when we see the Puffins in Iceland, as they mate, hunt, and jump off the high cliffs into the icy-cold water.
The summer is also the time of the year when their beaks have that colorful appearance. When they are at sea, the beaks fade to either a dark or light shade of gray.
This is a cute piece of knowledge considering that they stick to the same partner their entire lives. That means that they get all colored up and good-looking for their significant other Puffin. We dare you to find a cuter bird in a tougher climate.
Another interesting fact is that the Icelandic Puffin is all about equality. In the summertime when the female lays an egg, both partners take turns keeping that egg warm. The same goes for the parental duties after the little Pufflings hatch. Each pair of Puffins only lays one egg each year, so it’s crucial that the egg is well taken care of and that their offspring makes it to adulthood.
Puffins in Iceland have played an important role in Icelandic culture. The colors of the beak, as well as their sad appearance, have played a role in many stories in Northern Europe. If you go to certain places in Iceland, you will see all kinds of artistic interpretations of this penguin-looking bird.
The Puffin is a seabird, which means that it was fair game when it came to hunting for food when the first Vikings settled on the island. Since then, the Puffins in Iceland have become a sort of delicacy in different parts of the nation, with the Westman Islands being such an area.
When do the Puffins Arrive in Iceland?
The Icelandic bird can be seen in Iceland from early in April and will stay until September. This period is subject to climate and weather, so if the spring arrives late, so will the Puffins. Luckily, this means that if the spring arrives early and the winter comes late, you’ll have a long Puffin season! Puffins in Iceland are most visible from May to August. Arriving in April, they're active mainly in the evenings, often fishing during the day.
Unless you love Iceland as much as we do, being on the island for months on end to just chase after the Puffin birds will not be a viable option. Depending on what part of the annual Puffin repertoire you want to see, you should pick your holiday time slot.
Early in the summer, when the Puffins just arrived, is the time of the season to see the Puffin singles court potential new mates. This is also the time to see the Puffin couples start building their nests. Sometime in July is when the Pufflings start to make an appearance. You will be able to see the Puffin families do Puffin family stuff all over the island!
The migration in September is our favorite event. Though, since this is when you will be able to see the brave young Pufflings take their first leap into the icy ocean. Seeing these colorful little birds fearlessly hurling themselves off of the cliffs will always be an impressive sight. When in the water, they will be surrounded by other Pufflings and adult Puffins as they start to swim and fly out to sea.
How to Behave Towards Puffins in Iceland
As humans, we tend not to be mindful of our surroundings, which include the habitats of various species. Puffins in Iceland make very shallow nests in the grasslands on top of cliffs. These burrows are incredibly hard to see and easy to step on if you’re not careful. Therefore, it’s important to stick to the paths in the bird areas and pay close attention to what the guidelines in the area say. If you go with a guide, stay close and listen carefully.
Puffins are innately very curious birds and have often been seen waddling up to visitors to have a closer look at us funky-looking bipeds. This is not in any way an invitation to pet, feed, or cuddle the Puffins in Iceland, even though they may look like the cuddliest birds ever. Puffins are wild animals and need to stay that way to survive in the wild.
The rule of thumb around any wildlife is to observe at a distance and not interact with them up close. Puffins in Iceland fall under the same rule, so don’t hang around their nests for too long and watch where you put your feet.
Where to See Puffin in Iceland
When to go and how to behave are now taken care of. You’re practically a Puffin expert at this point, so now it’s time to get down to the important bit: where can we find the Puffins in Iceland? To be honest, you will likely be able to find Puffins all over Iceland if the circumstances are right. But we have gathered some key areas where large Puffin colonies have been spotted annually for a long time.
The Westman Islands is by far the best area to spot some Puffin birds. Here you will find the largest Puffin colony and the heart of the culture around Puffins in Iceland.
Even though Puffins can be seen all over the massive coast of this area, the most famous place is the Latrabjarg cliff. This is a notoriously good spot to take good photos of the Puffins in Iceland.
Famous for the most photographed black beach in Iceland, Reynisfjara is also home to a large Puffin colony. Here you can also see the famous Reynisdrangar cliffs, just outside the beach shoreline.
If you go just off the coast of the eastern part of Iceland, you will get to Papey Island, which annually houses an incredible number of Puffins.
Far to the north, you can take the ferry to an island that is so far north that the sun doesn’t set for literally a month. Grimsey Island will be the ultimate spot to experience the true midnight sun in Iceland. While you’re here, you can enjoy photographing the Puffins in Iceland.
Tours for Watching Puffins in Iceland
A perfect way of seeing the Puffins in Iceland is to go with an experienced tour guide that can tell you all about them. You will learn how these birds act, and where to capture the best pictures. The best way to experience Iceland is to rent a car in Iceland and explore it yourself but getting experts to help you in specific places to see specific things are strongly recommended. See below for a list of some good tours to spot Puffins in Iceland and where to find them.
- Book a tour to watch volcanoes and Puffins at Westman Islands here.
- Arctic Trip operates around Grimsey Island, an area where the Puffin numbers have been steadily increasing for a long time.
- Westfjords Adventures is one of many bird tours in the Westfjords.
The Puffin birds in Iceland are truly a sight to behold – especially those leaping from the cliffs at Latrabjarg. But wherever you intend to go to see them, just ensure that you book your trip during their migratory nesting period! As not to be utterly disappointed when landing in Iceland and being met by empty nests. As for the rest… happy Puffin spotting!