Puffins are amazing little birds with colorful noses. They look very cute and it is something that Iceland is known for. However, these birds are not completely everywhere in Iceland. And to find them you need to know where to see puffins in Iceland, otherwise, you might go home without seeing them and that would be a shame. There are also a couple of things to know about the birds, so you would understand that they are not that easy to see. You need to come in a specific time around a year too!
In Iceland, you can find species called Atlantic puffin, which is also the most common puffin. They live only on the Atlantic Ocean. You can see those Puffins in Iceland, Faroe Islands, Canada, Norway and even in Scotland or Maine in the USA. It might seem like a lot of places, but the truth is that the population of a puffin is rapidly declining and because of that, they have been marked with the status “vulnerable”.
Puffins are typical auks, meaning that they can float on the water and they are hunting by diving under the water, looking for small fish. Typical puffin is only about 30 cm tall with brightly colored beaks in the mating season. The mating season is typically from spring till the end of summer. After that, puffins peaks kind of greys out. That usually happens during the winter. But that is not the only case when puffins are somewhat grey and not typically looking. Also, teenage puffins who aren’t mature usually have grey heads as well. It is mainly so they wouldn’t be visible to their predators.
And who are natural predators for puffins? Seals have been known for killing puffins. And they are not the only ones. Sometimes when puffins are hunting, bigger fishes would attack them too. Other predators are typically ferrets, cats, dogs, weasels or even great gull. But also last but not least humans.
Climate change and Puffins
The main prey for Puffins is herrings. With increasing, water temperature puffins have issues to find their source of food. Some would try to go for butterfish, but that is sometimes too big for the puffins to swallow. All of this results in starvation and degreasing the colonies.
Another thing that very often kills those birds are oil spills as the north part of Atlantic is filled with ship traffic. When spillage happens, puffins are very vulnerable to it.
Hunting of puffin
Climate change is not the only way human affects puffin. In Iceland and the Faroe Islands, commonly, those birds are hunted for food. And are considered a delicacy in local cuisine. The hunting is usually done by nets and hunters would break the neck of the chick right after they would catch it. You can taste puffins up till now in some restaurants in Reykjavik or Westman islands. However cruel that sounds, Icelanders are well aware of the decreasing number of the birds and are limiting their hunts only to a certain number.
Where to see puffins in Iceland?
In general, there are several really good spots, that you can access even without a boat or any bigger effort. Some are harder to find and some others are very easy to get to. A lot of tour companies in Iceland are offering Puffin tours. Very often it is not even necessary. But all of it is about luck and the right time. So where to see puffins in Iceland?
These islands are particularly known for having one of the biggest colonies in Iceland and perhaps even the biggest colony in the world. Westman Islands are surrounded by big cliffs which is great for any puffin colony. The islands are located on the south shore of Iceland and you can get there by ferry, that during summertime comes about 11 times a day and it is not too far from waterfall Seljanasfoss.
Puffins here nest on all of the islands. You can find them even on the one, where Ferry goes – on Heimaey. The main island with the human population has even its puffin lookout. A place, where puffins are so common that you will see them here. In general, Westman Island has a massive bird population that lives in local Arcangelo, but the puffins here are outgrowing any other birds that live here.
Dyrholaey is also known as and puffin reservation. It is a place where they cannot be hunted and they are breeding here in big numbers. It is a good opportunity to see them here from the mainland. Dyrholaey is surrounded by black beaches and cliffs, which is the thing that puffins like that much. At the same time, it is a very interesting nature to see, so you can not just watch interesting birds but also hike around and see most of the volcanic nature around.
Dyrholaey is very close to the famous black beach close to the Vík and it is possible to see the puffins here in thousands. You can approach the place both from cliffs and from the beach itself. If you do it from a cliff, you have a great chance to see them flying and flapping their wings all around you. From the beach, it is easier to approach the nesting birds.
About a 7-hour drive from Reykjavík, you can find the most western place in Iceland and perhaps in the whole of Europe. It is called Latrabjarg and it is part of the West fjords. That is also the reason, why coming here takes that long time. Latrabjarg is an ideal place for bird watching and certainly one of the best spots where to see puffins in Iceland. but in general, West fjords are great for watching these little birds. The only difference is that other places might be remote or puffins might come here randomly. For some puffin cliffs in West fjords you will need to get on a boat tour.
The Látrabjarg cliffs are about 14km long and 400 meters tall. Many trails would bring you close to the edge of cliffs where you can see the puffins. You don’t have to worry too much about safety, most places have signs that will show you how far you can go to be safe.
In Latrabjarg, you can sometimes see people scaling down the cliffs and coming for eggs of birds – not necessarily just puffins, but them as well. This is part of local folklore and something common to locals for a very long time. However, with the recent descent of the bird’s population, this habit came under regulation, so it is not done as much as it used to.
Up in the north, you have a great opportunity to watch puffins as well. The Tjornes peninsula is very popular for this attraction. Several bird-watching trails will bring you straight to the cliffs where you can see puffins and some other species as well. So you can also see here cormorants and black guillemots.
Otherwise, you have here two main trails. One of them is Skeidsoxl and the other one is Voladalstorfa. Both of them offer a great view of the local puffin colonies. The great thing about this place is that it is so close to the ocean, that sometimes, you can spot here whales and dolphins as well.
Besides that, the Tjornes peninsula is very close to Husavík, so it is easy to get there once you are traveling around the north part of the country.
It might seem strange, but it is possible to watch these amazing birds from Reykjavík as well but it is not that easy. Outside of Reykjavík on the sea, there are two remote islands without any people. They are called Akurey and Lundi. On those two islands, you have a great opportunity to watch them right in the middle of nature and their natural habitat.
To get there is a little bit tricky as well, but from Reykjavik harbor are several boats that would offer you a tour to get to the puffins. It usually takes about an hour and cost from 6000ISK. In the main season, you will probably need to book the tour ahead to make sure that you get there.
In East Iceland lays this remote island with another massive colony full of these little birds. The islands don’t have any humans inhabitants so it is heaven on earth for all kinds of birds. To get to the island, you will first need to drive to the village called Djúpivogur and take the boat from there. All of that is relatively close to Jokursarlon so if you have spare time after visiting the glacier lagoon, you can very well just visit the local colony here.
Where to see puffins and how to ethically approach them
As mentioned previously, puffins are very vulnerable and even though Iceland is like a capital of the world for these little birds, it would be still shame if something would happen to them. There is an ethical way of how to watch puffins without hurting them or hurting yourself. It is something you should consider when going on a puffin tour or finding themself in nature.
Don’t go too close to the cliffs
That is rule number one. And I know that I mentioned that in one of the locations people are scaling down from the cliff, but in general, you are just visiting. Don’t do it. Not only because you can hurt yourself but also because you can hurt them. Here is the thing: puffins build their nests inside of the cliffs that they partially dug in. If you step too close, you might crush all of the nest and also fall from the cliff.
Slowly and quietly
That’s how you should always approach them. They are wild animals and there is no need to make them more afraid of humans than they already are. Besides, it might cause panic inside of the whole colony.
Don’t touch the puffins
And I cannot stress this enough. First of all, you need to keep your distance from them. If they are young, it might happen that their mate or their parent won’t accept them anymore if they smell human sense from them. And lifting them is completely no-no. Unless they are hurt and need some kind of help. Otherwise, they are wild animals and not pets for anyone to pet them.
Don’t feed the birds
Icelandic waters are still very rich in a lot of fishes and there is no need to feed the birds. They know how to hunt themself. And if they are very young, their parents will do that for them.
When is the best season to see puffins in Iceland
Puffins are visible only during the mating season. During that time they will create huge colonies on the land. The mating season is usually from May till mid-August. That is also the time when puffins have brightly colored beaks and are everywhere.
Other than that, puffins are not visible in Iceland. For about 8 months a year, they just live on an open sea. And you are not likely to find them during that time. They would spread all around the north part of the Atlantic ocean. When I say spread there can be as much as a one-kilometer territory on just one puffin. So if you want to see puffins in Iceland, you should come in summer.
Some fun facts about puffins
- Due to their brightly colored beaks, they are very often called the parrots of Atlantic or the north
- Puffins are monogamous creatures. When they find their mate, they would stay together until the rest of their life.
- These birds live pretty long. The oldest puffin on Westman islands died at the age of 38 years. That is however well above the average. Most of the birds get to live about 20 to 25 years
- Puffins dive deeper than other birds. That is mainly because their bones are not hollow in the middle. So they can dive up till 60 meters under the water. Their bones are also the reason why they need to flap wings much faster. Just to keep their heavier bodies in the air.
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