One of the perks of living in Iceland (for most people anyway) is the near complete lack of insects and absolute lack of reptiles. Of the few insects we have, almost nothing stings and the spiders are tiny. And while one of our most common houseflies, the crane fly, looks like a sci-fi sized mosquito, it is completely harmless. But the rest of our fauna is a lot more interesting. Here are a few of our favorite beasts that call Iceland home.
An estimated number of 7,000 reindeer roam the highlands in the eastern part of the country but while the rest of the world associates reindeer with cute Christmas-cartoons, Icelanders think of them as wild game. Hunting reindeer is a popular sport in Iceland but heavily regulated by the Environment Agency and a lucky few are drawn from a quota-based lottery every year. Tasty as they may be, this is one magnificent creature and spotting a herd of reindeer is truly a treat.
The Icelandic Falcon
The falcon’s lair is called “óðal” in Icelandic or “estate”, which might give an indication of the respect these animals get here. The lairs are always in the same places, occupied by one generation after another for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. Falcons mainly eat ptarmigan, another beautiful bird, considered a delicacy by both falcons and people. The estimated 400 breeding couples of the Icelandic falcon are considered a vulnerable species and are protected accordingly. Not only are they and their eggs untouchable, you’re not allowed to disturb them and to photograph them nesting requires a special permission from the Icelandic Environment Agency. But when you see them soaring through the air or perching regally on some cliff, you won’t need a regulation to respect their privacy. They will always be the VIP of the party.
Arguably the cutest of all fowl, this little guy is one of the most common birds in Iceland and it’s not just the colorful beak and the stout little body. They mate for life and co-parent their young. They live in little holes they dig out themselves, usually completed with a little bathroom area. They nest all over the country and are popular in sightseeing tours, often an added treat to whale watching tours. The puffin is so popular among our visitors that Icelanders call regular tourist shops “puffin stores” but that really shouldn’t stop you from buying all that adorable puffin stuff.
I realize there are probably cats where you’re from but probably not like this. Whenever I travel I really miss seeing the streets lined with friendly cats stepping out to patrol their backyard and rubbing up against strangers in the street. The national cat-frenzy is at an all time high these days with the new reality TV show hit Keeping up with the Kattarshians, which we of course highly recommend.
The cause of much controversy in the last few decades, these magnificent beasts are both common and popular sights off the coast of Iceland, one of the last countries in the world to still hunt whale. Whaling ships and whale watching ships dock next to each other in the city harbor, much to the dismay of, well, almost everybody. Why whale hunting will not go quietly into the night is something of a mystery given the huge opposition for it and there being no real market for whale meat anyway. One of the best arguments against whaling is the economic viability of whale watching so do us all a favor and go spot a whale. And because I let politics get the best of me here, I’ll write a special blog just about whales, next time.