Springtime – Meet the Migratory Birds

The Birders

This time of year, migratory birds start making their way north to mate, lay eggs and hatch them before setting out on the long voyage back south. I admit, birding doesn’t sound like the coolest pastime Iceland has to offer but give it a chance and you just might find out why birders seem so passionate about their feathered friends.


Compared to other countries, Iceland can’t really boast about a rich bird fauna since there are only about 20 local species to be found here, but there are several more that travel all the way to this northern island for the cool summer ever year. A little less than 400 species of wild birds have been spotted in Iceland.


Arctic Tern. Image copyright Lindsay Robinson: https://flic.kr/p/7aAtKa

The Nesters

Regular nesters are less than a hundred. These include species like the incredibly cute and popular Puffin* and the Common Redshank that you’ll see on every other fence posts during the summer in Iceland. The agile champion of the lot is surely the Arctic Tern, a world record holder in long-distance migration. Then there’s the Whimbrel with its long and majestic beak and last but not least the most beloved bird in Iceland, the European Golden Plover. Its song is synonymous with springtime and the arrival of the Golden Plover hits the front pages and headlines of every media outlet in the country. It’s also a frequent character in Icelandic literature and folklore as a sign of hope, harmony and a unifying symbol for Icelanders everywhere.

Sanderling. Image copyright Richard Towell: https://flic.kr/p/dvjMd4

The Tourists

Even though not that many species nest in Iceland, a number of species stop for a welcome layover on their long journeys and Reykjavík’s birders need not travel far to find these birds. Grafarvogur, a cove in the capital area, is a popular resting place for these birds and a number of waders usually gather on the mudflats. These include Sanderlings, Dunlins and the Red Knot.

The Golden Plover. Image copyright Atli Harðarson: https://flic.kr/p/6vt4fJ

The Flocks

The southeast area of Iceland is also a great place to go bird watching at this time of year since birds gather in incredible numbers there before they continue their journeys further inland or onward to even more northern destinations. In the fall, thousands of swans also gather there for their last meal before setting out on their great journey back.

Whimbrel. Image copyright Atli Harðarson: https://flic.kr/p/5DNwse

The Quantity

While the number of species that journey here or touch down here isn’t great, the number of individual birds is very high. This is true for the Common Murre and the Thick-Billed Murre. You’ll find the largest number of Pink-Footed Goose in a single flock in the world in Þjórsárver during nesting season. A majority of the Atlantic Ocean’s Puffin population summers in Iceland and a very large part of the Whimbrel population.

Puffin Love
Puffins. Image copyrights Genevieve Dalley: https://flic.kr/p/vMwNfu

The Vagrants

Then there are the irregular vagrant birds. Half of all the species that have been spotted here are considered vagrants that have been driven off course by storms or other unfortunate mishaps, usually from Canada or the USA. Some of these oddities include the Eurasian Spoonbill, the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, the Yellow-Rumped Warbler and the Little Egret.

Yellow-Bellied SapsuckerYellow-Bellied Sapsucker. Image copyright shell game: https://flic.kr/p/bzGqPP

It may sound incredibly nerdy but looking for new species of birds in the springtime is both exciting and pleasurable to all who try it. So while you’re here, why not come out as the passionate birder you are?


*A note on grammar: I capitalize the common names of bird species. It just makes it easier to read even though it is technically wrong.


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