Puffins are the parrots of the sea and live amazing and adventurous lives, from birth to adulthood. These monogamous birds come to Iceland each year to mate and get little Pufflings, which makes for amazing photos and interactions. Watching Puffins in Iceland is the best way to experience these bundles of happiness and ranks as one of the best things to do in Iceland.
We have all seen the “parrots of the sea” sitting on the grassy cliffsides or waddling around with (what it seems like) their “hands” on their backs, looking like concerned uncles. But Puffins in Iceland have become a symbol of colourful, vibrant playfulness in the animal kingdom, and you mustn’t miss out on this unique Icelandic experience. Check out this article for everything you need to know about the most famous bird in Iceland.
Puffins in Iceland
There are four different species of Puffin birds in the world, and only one of them can be seen in Iceland. They are colourful birds with a clown beak and are surprisingly smart for birds, which is why they make such great attractions and are on the list of the best things to do in Iceland.
Puffins in Iceland spend half of the year in the freezing North Atlantic Ocean, frolicking in the nutrient-rich waters with many other sea animals. Hearing this, most people would say “Surely, Icelandic Puffins get out of the freezing cold waters in the freezing cold time of the year to not become freezing cold Puffin-icicles?” Not these hardened Viking birds. They only come out of the water in the summertime to hang out with tourists, mate, and do crazy dives off the Icelandic cliffs.
Puffins in Iceland are very well known for their appearance, as they have the colourful beak, “sad” eyes, and the complexion of a penguin. The last part is a bit extraordinary since there are no penguins naturally in the northern hemisphere. Their beaks are only colourful in the summertime and become a pale grey in the winter when they are bobbing on the waves at sea. Even though they may look sad with their mascara-esque eyes, we promise you that Puffins in Iceland are not perpetually depressed, they are just very fashionable birds.
An adorable fact regarding Puffins is that even though they get colourful and go to Iceland in the summer to mate and get little Pufflings (yes, this is what they are actually called), they are monogamous birds that keep to their partner for life. That means that most colourful Puffins in Iceland are not likely to be colourful to attract a new mate, but rather colourful to be attractive to their already established significant other Puffin partners. We dare you to find a more adorable bird.
Another interesting fact is that they split the caretaking of the eggs and Pufflings 50/50. This means that both parents will sit on the eggs and provide food for their partner as well as the babies. Overall Puffins are good role models for other birds as well as for most of us humans when it comes to equality.
Icelandic Cuisine and Culture
A question that always divides Puffin-watchers in two is “can you eat Puffins in Iceland?”. The answer is yes. Even though most of you might not think this is a very appetizing image, we must remember that Puffins are wild game like most other animals in Iceland, and they are in abundance. This has been the case ever since people settled on the island, and there is no doubt that life was hard, and food was scarce back in the day.
But in this day and age, do Icelanders still eat Puffins? Yes, but generally not in any significant quantities. Icelanders have been eating sea birds since before they were officially called Icelanders, so eating Puffins in Iceland has been part of the culture, just like eating whales, dolphins, sharks, or any other animal that we might feel is out of our comfort zone. It’s simply a part of the Icelandic culture.
You are most likely to come across a restaurant that serves Puffins somewhere around the coast and/or in the major cities. Westman Islands is your best bet outside of Reykjavik if you want to have a properly prepared Puffin dish since they have a large number of Puffins coming there each year.
When to See Puffins in Iceland
As we mentioned earlier in the article, Puffins in Iceland winter are no-shows but become Iceland’s best visitors in the summertime. Generally speaking, Puffins can be spotted in Iceland somewhere between early April and the middle of September, making the summertime the only time of year to see them there.
The best time to see Puffins in Iceland is in July and forward, since that is when the small Pufflings are starting to hatch and you can see them sitting in the grass or on the cliffs, being fed by their parents. This makes the period July- mid-September a vibrant time for bird-watchers and you will be able to see the massive amounts of birds do all the family things they love to do.
But can you still see Puffins in Iceland in September? Absolutely! September is the time of year when they demonstrate the most spectacular part of their summertime behaviour: jumping from the cliffs! Every year, sometime in September, Puffins will hurl themselves off the cliffs and into the freezing North Atlantic Ocean.
This event includes the small Pufflings and even though it might seem like a dangerous event for the small ones, it is no big deal. When the little ones have dived into the sea, they are taken care of by their families and the massive amounts of birds provide safety in numbers.
Where Are They?
Puffins in Iceland are the Atlantic Puffins. 60 percent of the global population of this species can be found in Iceland during the summer; the rest are scattered across the main bodies of land like North America, the British Isles, Norway, and Greenland.
In the wintertime, these little bundles of joy can be seen in the open sea, stretching all the way from the northern ice caps to the Canary Islands off the coast of northern Africa.
When it comes to where to see Puffins in Iceland, you can technically see them all around the island wherever there is a cliff towards the sea and some patches of grass close to it. Some places claim to be the best place to see Puffins in Iceland, and it is often for a very good reason. Some can be found just a day trip from Reykjavik, making it very attractive areas in general.
When you look at how many Puffins are in Iceland, it’s no surprise to anyone that you will have some concentrated spots of bird colonies around. Overall, there are roughly 8-10 million Puffins in Iceland in the summer, so there are plenty to go around and be photographed.
The Westman Islands are clear main spots to see Puffins in Iceland and will be a safe bet. The majority of the birds come to the Westman Islands in the summer, so your chances of seeing them here in the summer are going to be (statistically) better than in any other large area in Iceland.
Apart from that, this area is also a great spot to join a whale watching tour in Iceland. The islands are home to diverse marine life and stunning landscapes.
Látrabjarg is another popular spot for spotting Puffins. The large cliffside is in the Westfjords and houses roughly a million Puffins each year. The cliffs are located in a somewhat remote area, so they can easily be considered an off the beaten path gem in Iceland. While you may trek a bit to reach Latrabjarg, it will be well worth the effort.
Since this is a nature reserve, and they have been taught that they are safe here, they are not afraid of humans and will sometimes waddle up to photographers out of curiosity.
Our number three on the list is in the southern part of the island, very close to Vík. Here you can find amazing cliffs toward the sea, where Dyrhóley is one of the most striking rock formations and will house a large colony of various sea birds.
How to See Puffins in Iceland
The most common way to see Puffin birds in Iceland is by joining a tour. Tours to see Puffin birds are found all over the country but will be most prominent in the three areas we mentioned above, due to the large number of birds and (somewhat) easy access.
The other way is to go on your own adventure and seek out these areas yourself. This article has equipped you with the right know-how and tips for areas to find Puffins on your own, so get up to speed with which car you want to rent to fulfil your needs and go see some adorable Puffins!