The puffin is so popular, especially for Iceland visitors, that locals call the souvenir shops in downtown Reykjavík often Lundabúð – Puffin Store. The arctic puffin or lundinn in Icelandic is printed on postcards, magnets, coasters, and t-shirts. But where can you spot this cute guy in nature? And when? Keep on reading to find the answers.
The Arctic Puffin in Iceland
Iceland is the returning breeding home to around 60 percent of the world’s Atlantic puffin. Although the population is declining, Icelanders still hunt the bird. In fact, Iceland is the only country where hunting Puffins is still allowed. That’s why you can see taxidermy puffins in the souvenir shops.
The bird spends most of its life on the sea. They are excellent swimmers and divers. They only come to land to breed, usually on rocky cliff tops where they build the nest. Most likely, you will not see the nest since puffins dig a hole into the ground where they disappear in if visitors step too closely.
You have to be extra cautious when walking on steep cliffs to see the bird. Because of their holes, the ground can be very unstable and collapse.
Best places to spot the Puffin
Spotting Puffins is only possible in the summertime, best between the month of May to August. The best places to spot the bird is on cliff sides, where they breed. Around Reykjavík, you can take a boat tour to watch the colony on the small islands around the capital.
If you are going on a trip to the south, you might see the puffins on cliff sides around Reynisfjara and Dyrhólaey.
One of the best places to spot them is Vestmannaeyjar, the island in South Iceland. You can take a boat tour or you can see puffins in the so-called puffin hospital which is no part of Sealife Trust.
Every year, rescued pufflings arrive dirty and oiled at the station. Local kids collect the birds and bring them to the hospital. The team then washes the pufflings with special soap before they can be released.
It is assumed that the pufflings get confused by the city lights and therefore land on the streets of Heimaey, the capital of the Westman Islands. If you visit the SeaLife Trust, you can see the rescued pufflings and learn more about the Puffling Patrol Programme.
On the most western place in Europe, remote and surrounded by pure nature lies one of the best places to observe puffin colonies in the summer. Látrabjarg in the Westfjords of Iceland is no day trip. If you plan to visit the Westfjords or drive around the island, we highly recommend making a detour to Látrabjarg if the weather is on your side.
There, you can see puffins close up, some of them even jumping in front of your lens. They are used to humans around and therefore are not too shy to post for your camera. Many professional photographers build up huge lenses every summer to take the best shots of the Icelandic supermodel.
Be careful when you approach the cliffs, they are very steep and the winds get very strong around the area. The trick is to lie down and carefully crawl towards the cliffs. Hold on to your camera and enjoy watching hundreds of birds flying to their nests.
We call it puffin paradise. For real, the island is full of the puffin colonies and you will turn your head in every direction while walking around the island, to see thousands of birds.
It took me four years of living in Iceland until i made it to Grímsey. It is the northernmost place in Iceland and famous because the Arctic Circle crosses the island. The ferry takes 3 hours each way from Dalvík in North Iceland.
If you are in the area, the trip is definitely worth it in the summer. You can spot many other birds and walk towards the monument that marks the line of the Arctic Circle. Another bird that will surely bother you while on the island is the Arctic Tern, Kría in Icelandic.
Famous for its aggressive behavior the Kría will loudly announce if you come to close to their nests and in the worst-case attack you. Take a stick with you and hold it up. The bird only attacks the highest point.
Where does the Puffin go in the wintertime?
After the breeding season in August/ September, the Puffin returns to the open ocean, far from land. With their waterproof feathers and talent to catch fish underwater, puffins are well adapted to life at sea.
The Honest Guide suggests: You should avoid eating puffin meat in Iceland. When the demand declines, so will the hunt for the bird, hopefully.