When and Where to See Puffins in Iceland Skip to content
Photo: Berglind. A puffin nestled in the Látrabjarg cliffs in Iceland.

When and Where to See Puffins in Iceland

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If Iceland had a mascot it would likely be in the form of a puffin, the tiny, adorable seabird that spends its summers nesting in cliffs all around the country. It would be appropriate too since puffins are the most common bird in Iceland with a population of around 10 million birds every year. Like its cousins, the razorbill and the common murre, the puffin is mostly black and white but its beak is distinctive, a blocky rainbow of various colours that adds on to the little birds’ endearing appearance. Puffins start migrating to Iceland in April and in late May they’ve begun laying eggs in little burrows that they dig out in grassy cliffs along the shoreline. Although puffins settle all around Iceland, most of them congregate in Látrabjarg cliffs in the Westfjords and in the Westman Islands, drawing in large crowds of people to these areas every year for close sightings. Another popular place to see puffins is in Borgarfjörður eystri on the east side of Iceland. These areas are ideal because visitors can access the cliffs from above and get really close to the puffins where they’re flying in and out of their nests, collecting fish in their colourful beaks. Close to Reykjavík, puffins make their home in various islands close to the city that are accessable by boat. In that case it’s optimal to combine a puffin tour with whale watching.

Berglind. A pair of puffins resting in the Látrabjarg cliffs

Puffling Rescue in the Westman Islands

Puffins are full of personality and watching them go about their busy life is mesmerising. After 40 days of hatching the egg, parents care for their pufflings for about 45 days and then leave them to fend for themselves in August. The younglings head straight for the ocean to dive for food which usually goes smoothly but in Heimaey in the Westman Islands, pufflings tend to get confused by the city lights and head for the town instead. During this time the townspeople stay up to collect the pufflings from gardens and streets and keep them safe overnight. In the morning everyone goes down to the shore to toss the pufflings out to sea. It’s great fun to witness this rescue mission, although in recent years the number of pufflings flying into Heimaey has decreased due to receding number of birds nesting on the Islands. In late August, most puffins have left Iceland for the winter where they’ll spend their time out in the open sea.

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