Surprisingly High Number of Puffins Still in Iceland Skip to content

Surprisingly High Number of Puffins Still in Iceland

The bird cliffs in the Dyrhólaey promontory in south Iceland are black with thousands of puffins, as described by local tour guide Börkur Hrólfsson. It is very unusual to see so many puffins there so late in the summer.


Puffins. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

“The cliffs here in [the beach] Reynisfjara and the slopes are covered in puffins. Large flocks fly from here, out to the ocean and back again. It is as if it were mid-summer and it’s very unusual to see so many puffins here now,” he told, describing the flock’s movements as being like a dark cloud passing across the sun.

The migratory birds’ behavior is puzzling as they usually leave the country in mid-August. “They were sort of gone but then they returned as the food came back. Finally there are enough sandeels,” he said.

“I have heard from locals that […] the fish caught here are filled with sandeels and the puffins don’t want to go when they are finally getting enough to eat,” Hrólfsson concluded.

Also, puffin hunters in the Westman Islands are surprised at the number of young birds on the islands in light of scientists’ claims that no puffin chicks have hatched in the past few years.

Local puffin hunter and member of the opposition in the town council Páll Scheving Ingvarsson told that he had brought out his net and caught a few puffins at Mt. Dalfjall to examine them.

He said he was surprised to find that six or seven of every ten birds were young. He released them again because an overall puffin hunting ban is in place in the Westman Islands.

According to studies, hardly any puffin chicks have survived the summer in the past few years and people are therefore asking themselves where the young birds came from.

Biologist Erpur Snaer Hansen said it is possible that the young birds have come from other regions although he finds that an unlikely explanation. He will examine recent photographs of puffins in the archipelago’s Ellidaey for an age analysis.

Both hunters and scientists agree that few adult puffins are now bringing sandeels to their chicks. Overall, the seabird nesting in Iceland has been deemed as a failure, especially along the country’s southern and western coastline.

Biologist Ellen Magnúsdóttir told that the nesting of seabirds in the Snaefellsjökull national park in west Iceland did not go well.

A large part of the kittiwake and fulmar stocks disappeared from the cliffs early; there were few guillemots in the cliffs and only a few of the couples laid eggs. The Arctic tern started nesting late and was largely unsuccessful.

Click here to read more about the condition of seabirds and here to read other recent bird news.


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