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Seabirds of Iceland

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

Circumnavigating Iceland by ship guarantees seeing a lot of seabirds. The one I wanted to see most was the puffin. Iceland is home to the largest colony of puffins in the world, and many smaller but significant colonies. Puffins might be the most attractive birds, but there were many more that I enjoyed seeing.

Arctic Terns were plentiful and easily identified because of their split tail. When we hiked near tern nesting sites, we had to keep moving and be prepared to fight off an attack as the terns are quite territorial.

Eider Ducks are quite interesting because the farmers of Iceland have a cooperative agreement with them. The farmers allow the wild ducks to nest on their area and help the ducks defend against predators like the Arctic Fox. The ducks line their nests with eider down. When the ducklings have hatched and the family moves on, the farmers collect the down, wash it, and sell if. You can buy eider down products at https://icelandicdown.com. Be prepared to take out a loan to purchase a comforter as it will set you back more than $4,000. Later in the trip, I met a woman master tanner and natural fibers artist. She asked me to close my eyes. Then she place a square of eider down on my hand. Heavenly!


The males are easy to spot. The females blend in so much that when they are sitting on a nest, it’s difficult to see them. The one in this photo is looking underwater for food.

Kittywakes soar through the sky with ease and can be identified by their gull-like appearance and the black feathers on their wing tips. While taking one hike, I ran across a pond of them causing them to scatter.

Like terns, Kittywakes can be very territorial. Our guides cautioned us to be watchful. If a Kittywake feels very threatened, they puke on their assailant. The smell is supposed to be difficult to get out of clothes.


I was tracking a Kittywake when I captured this image. At the time, I didn't see the second one move into place! It's quite the photobomb.

Here's one that shows the underside of the wings.

These Oystercatchers were walking in step on a fence, each with a tag. On another day, I spotted a tag-free bird.


The eyes of Razorbills are so dark that it is difficult to see that they have eyes.

I saw a fair number of Plovers. They tend to hang out alone and blend in with their surroundings.

Puffins build burrows high on cliffs where they can defend their nests from predators.



Their body shape is not very aerodynamic, so when they fly, they flap rapidly and don’t soar. The wind on the cliffs sometimes thwarts the puffin’s efforts to fly forward, which makes it a bit easier to capture an image. It’s only a bit easier, because while the puffin is held in place by the wind, I’m having to fight against the wind to stand up and hold my camera still.





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