birds in iceland

Iceland is rich with avian life. It has been recorded that, since settlement, 330 bird species have been sighted in Iceland. A bird enthusiast could tick off 60-80 different bird species on a single bird watching trip to Iceland.

Below you will find a guide to the brilliant birdlife in Iceland, information on the most common bird species, when is the best season to birdwatch as well as the best locations for birdwatching trips.

What Is Iceland’s National Bird?

The Iceland national bird is the Gyrfalcon although many often assume it is the Puffin. The Gyrfalcon is actually the largest of the falcon species and is a bird of prey. The abbreviation “gyr” is also used and locals might refer to the bird as such.

Some of the most distinguishing features of the Gyrfalcon include;

  • The largest of falcons, this bird can grow to 65 cm and have a wingspan up to 160 cm.
  • The bird generally has silver or brown colouration to its feathers.
  • It has also been known to have a fully white plumage or a darker black plumage too.
  • The Gyrfalcon most commonly nests on cliff faces so this is a good place to spot them.

iceland national bird gyrfalcon

What is the best season to go bird watching?

Summer: The optimum time to go birdwatching is between May and June. Iceland during the summer months hosts a large variety of migrant birds. Many species become visible as they mate and mark or defend their territories.

Winter: You may get lucky in the West and South coastal areas in Iceland. Speciality species, such as Harlequin Ducks, and small rafts of Eiders, Scaups and Mergansers have been sighted by keen birdwatchers. White-winged gulls are common during this time. The Selfoss/Pingvallen area is a great place for winter birdwatching.

Where are the best places to go bird watching in Iceland?

Bird watching can be frustrating and unfruitful if you don’t know where to start or what you are looking for. To give you a head start, below you will find a list of 5 birdwatching hotspots in Iceland, as well as few birds you can find in each spot.



The coastal location of Látrabjarg cliffs in the far west of Westfjords is 14 kilometres in length, and 440 metres high. It is great for hiking and is renowned for its thriving birdlife. It hosts up to 40% of the global population of Razorbill. Puffins are also a common sighting.

Top birds in the area:

             Atlantic puffin

             Razor bills


             Northern Gannet


2. Westman Islands

Named after two Irish slaves, the Westman Islands have a dark past, but in present times its vast nature opportunities attract thousands of tourists. An estimated 10 million puffins nest in Iceland each year, most of whom come to these Westman Islands. Confused by town lights, Puffins often end up on the streets and it is a local tradition for people to return them to the sea. However, Puffins are just 1 amongst 30 other species that frequent this region.

Top birds in the area:

             Northern Fulmar

             Common Guillemot

             Atlantic Puffin

             Leach’s Storm-petrel

             Purple Sandpiper

             Ruddy Turnstone

             Arctic Tern

             Black-legged Kittiwake

             Herring Gull


3. Reykjavik

The urban city, Reykjavík has a diverse selection of birds with many habitats. Reykjavík has a number of birdwatching hotspots, such as Tjörnin (in the downtown pond) and Seltjarnarnes (in the nature reserve). 

Top birds in the area:

             Greater Scaup

             Arctic Tern

             Tufted Duck

             Shore bird


             Common Eider

             Common Ringed Plover

             Whooper Swan


4. Lake Mývatn

A national conservation area since 1974, Lake Mývatn is Iceland’s fourth largest spring water lake. It not only has beautiful landscapes but is home to many bird species so it is a popular destination for birdwatchers. Furthermore, it home to the largest known private bird collection in Iceland, contained in Sigurgeirs Bird Museum..

Top Birds in the area:

             Gyrfalcon, the national bird

             15 species of duck

o             Harlequin Duck

o             Barrow’s Golden Eye Duck

o             Tufted Duck

o             Wigeon

o             Gadwall

o             Scaup


5. Snaefellsnes Penninsula

Snaefellsnes is considered to be a microcosm for Iceland as a whole, as there are a variety of habitats such as lakes, lava cliffs, basalt columns and mountains. This gives the avid bird watcher opportunity to watch birds year-round.

Top Birds in the area:

             White-tailed eagles


             Glaucous gulls