When do puffins arrive in Iceland?

Puffin Iceland

The Atlantic puffin (in Icelandic, lundi), is something of a national symbol, with many tourists and Icelanders alike flocking to bird cliffs to catch a glimpse of these brightly-coloured seabirds.

Of course, if you’re planning your trip to Iceland around seeing these birds, then it helps to know when, exactly, they’re here!

When does the puffin arrive in Iceland?

Puffins spend much of their life at sea and are actually only in Iceland for a relatively short time to breed and nest. They tend to arrive in Iceland beginning in April (usually later in the month, just before May) and generally begin to leave in August. The puffins are usually gone by September. The height of breeding- and nesting-season is from June through August.

In 2024, some of the first puffins of the year were recorded on April 11, when small groups of the black and white seabird arrived on the island of Grímsey and in Borgarfjörður eystri, in East Iceland.

Although the puffin typically begins arriving in April, most puffin tours only begin in May, to guarantee better conditions for sighting the seabird.

More about the Atlantic puffin

Unlike many other cliff-dwelling seabirds, Atlantic puffins will actually dig little holes to build their nests in. Puffins monogamously mate for life, and generally just produce one egg each breeding season. Male puffins tend to spend more time at home with the chick and organising the nest, while female puffins tend to be more involved with feeding the young. Raising their young takes around 40 days.

Until recently, it was actually unknown where, exactly, Atlantic puffins spent the rest of the year. But with modern tracking technologies, these little birds have been found to range as far south as the Mediterranean during the winter season. When puffins leave the nest, they will head off on their own without their parents, finding their own feeding and winter grounds. Over their lives, they will remember and repeat their lonely journey. They don’t always head to warmer climates in the winter, however. Icelandic puffins have been found to winter in Newfoundland and in the open sea south of Greenland.

Puffins are relatively small seabirds, averaging about 47 to 63cm [18 to 25in] in wingspan and weighing generally between 300 and 500g [10 to 17oz].

There are an estimated 8 million adult Atlantic puffins, with a majority of the world’s puffing population, around 60%, nesting in Iceland. Besides Iceland, puffins can also be found nesting in Ireland, the UK, Norway, Russia, the Faroe islands, and Greenland.

The Westman islands, an archipelago off the South Coast of Iceland, has by far the largest puffin colony in Iceland, with around 800,000 breeding pairs. Second place goes to Breiðafjörður, with around 400,000 breeding pairs. A less populated, but stunningly beautiful, bird cliff is Látrabjarg, the western-most point of Iceland.

Read more about bird watching in Iceland.

Iceland’s Largest Bird Cliff Látrabjarg Protected

Puffins - Westfjords - Lundar - Látrabjarg

One of Europe’s largest bird cliffs and Iceland’s largest bird nesting area, Látrabjarg, was officially protected yesterday by Iceland’s Minister for the Environment. Hundreds of thousands of birds breed on the cliff yearly, including some at-risk species. The protection is meant to safeguard the area’s biodiversity and the habitat it provides to a wide variety of birds.

Látrabjarg is located in the Westfjords region and is in fact the westernmost point in Iceland. A staggering number of seabirds nest there every year, including one of the largest populations of razorbills in the world: over 160,000 nesting pairs. Around 226,000 guillemot pairs, 118,000 thick-billed murres, 100,000 fulmar pairs, puffins (50,00 pairs), and kittiwakes (some 32,000 pairs) also nest along Látrabjarg. Besides being a key bird habitat, the cliff also features settlement and cultural relics, as well as reflecting the geology of the Westfjords.

“Today is a big day in nature conservation as we protect Látrabjarg, one of the most spectacular bird cliffs in the country and one of the largest in the North Atlantic,” Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson stated. “The cliff is a globally important seabird habitat, with one of the largest razorbill settlements in the world and about half of the Icelandic population. There has also been an increase in tourists going to the cliff in recent years, and it is therefore very important to manage traffic in a systematic way and strengthen supervision of the area. My hope is that birds and humans can enjoy the area for the foreseeable future.”

Yesterday’s signing took place in collaboration with locals of the area, who have been calling for the cliff’s protection for years. The Icelandic government initially decided to protect Látrabjarg in 2004.

Látrabjarg
Páll Stefánsson.

Látrabjarg Bird Cliff to Be Protected

The Environment Agency of Iceland has presented a proposal for the protection of the Látrabjarg bird cliffs in the Westfjords. The agency has been working on the proposal since 2011 in collaboration with landowners, local authorities, and other stakeholders and is now seeking comments on it from the public.

One of Europe’s biggest bird cliffs, Látrabjarg is the westernmost point in Iceland. A staggering number of seabirds nest there every year, including the largest population of razorbills in the world, with 160,968 nesting pairs. Guillemots (225,912 pairs), thick-billed murres (118,034), fulmars (99,894 pairs), puffins (50,00 pairs), kittiwakes (32,028 pairs) also nest along Látrabjarg.

The proposed boundaries for the Látrabjarg preserve would enclose an area of 2,340 hectares (around 9 sq mi; 23.4 sq km). In addition to protecting the cliffs themselves, the preserve would extend one kilometre out to sea, with the intention of safeguarding the surrounding marine environment as well.

The proposed boundaries of the Látrabjarg Nature Reserve.

Per the written proposal, the primary goal of designating Látrabjarg a protected area is to “protect the unique and diverse ecosystem of the area and habitat for birds, especially the seabird nesting site. The protected status is simultaneously intended to protect and maintain the natural condition [of the site] as well as the magnificent landscape from sea level all the way up to the highest point of one of the North Atlantic’s largest bird cliffs.”

Granting the cliffs protected status is also intended to protect its cultural heritage, ensure that it continues to be monitored and studied by scientists, and redouble educational outreach related to its rich bird life.

The deadline for submitting comments on the proposal is June 18, 2019. They can be submitted by email at [email protected] or by post to the Environment Agency of Iceland, Suðurlandsbraut 24, 108 Reykjavík.

Road to Látrabjarg in Poor Condition

The gravel road which leads to the popular travel destination Látrabjarg is in poor condition after the winter, Bæjarins Besta reports. The 440 metre high Látrabjarg is the westernmost point of Iceland. Home to millions of birds, it is a popular bird watching destination and receives high visitor numbers in the summertime. The cliff was chosen as one of the top 10 ocean viewing spots in the world by National Geographic.

Látrabjarg is situated on the southern part of the Icelandic Westfjords, and the road (road 612 – Örlygshafnarvegur) towards the cliff is plagued by deep holes which can damage vehicles passing through. The photographer Marino Thorlacius shed light on the issue with photos and videos of the road’s condition. “The The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration and Vesturbyggð don’t seem to understand that Látrabjarg and Rauðisandur are the places that attract people to the southern part of the Westfjords. The road access tarnishes the image of the area and is completely unacceptable.”, Marino commented. “Everyone knows that these are rural roads and their condition isn’t a 100% percent, but it’s not acceptable that they’re at 20% condition in the high season when the traffic is at its highest point”, Marino continued. He criticized the The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration for its part in it, and the fact that they have focused on other roads and areas.

Travellers are advised to show caution while driving the road, which is still deemed passable. Further information can be reached by phone (1777) and at www.road.is.