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Where and When to See Puffins in Iceland

    Updated: 29th January 2024

    Overview of Puffin Watching in Iceland

    Iceland is a prime location for puffin watching, with its rugged coastlines and numerous islands providing ideal nesting grounds for these charming seabirds. The Atlantic Puffin, with its colourful beak and distinctive appearance, is the most common puffin species found in Iceland.

    When planning your puffin watching adventure, it’s essential to know that the best time to see puffins is from late April to early September. The peak season is between May and August, when puffins are breeding and most active on land.

    You can observe puffins from various points along the Icelandic coast. Some of the most accessible and renowned sites include:

    • Látrabjarg Cliffs – In the Westfjords, towering cliffs home to countless birds.
    • Dyrhólaey – Near Vik, with a large puffin colony easily viewable from the shore.
    • Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) – An archipelago with significant puffin populations.

    During the viewing seasons, several operators offer puffin watching tours, usually conducted by boat, providing close encounters with the birds in their natural habitat without disturbing them.

    Remember that puffins spend most of the year at sea, only returning to shore to breed. Your respect for their environment will help ensure puffins continue to thrive and be a source of delight for visitors to Iceland.

    Puffins, Iceland
    Credit: Anthony Quintano

    Best Time of Year to See Puffins

    When planning your amazing journey to see these charismatic birds, timing is everything. Your puffin-spotting expedition will be most successful if you visit Iceland during the prime puffin season. So, grab your calendar, and let’s pencil in the best times!

    Puffins usually grace the Icelandic shores for nesting from late April through to early September. Here’s a concise breakdown:

    • Late April to Early May: Puffins begin to arrive. Sightings may be less frequent, but early birds can catch them setting up their burrows.
    • June: This month is inherently special because it’s the onset of the nesting period. Puffins are more active around their nests, perfect for observation.
    • July to August: With chicks hatching, adults are busily coming and going, providing excellent viewing opportunities.
    • Early September: It’s your last chance to catch these birds before they take to the oceans again.

    For the best daily sightings, aim to visit their colonies during the morning (07:00-10:00) and in the evening (18:00-22:00), as puffins spend midday at sea fishing. Iceland’s coastal cliffs become a hub of activity with puffins performing their famous “billing” and nurturing their young.

    Recall, these puffin visitation times can vary slightly each year, so it’s wise to check current conditions nearer to your trip. Mark these periods, and you’ll be in for a delightful puffin encounter on the ruggedly beautiful cliffs of Iceland.

    Prime Locations for Puffin Spotting

    In Iceland, you’re never too far from a chance to witness the adorable puffin. These prime locations are not just beautiful in their own right but also serve as hotspots for puffin spotting during the breeding season, typically from April to August.

    Látrabjarg Cliffs

    At the Látrabjarg Cliffs, you’ll find Europe’s largest bird cliff. This destination is renowned as one of the best puffin watching spots, where the birds are so fearless you can often approach them closely.

    Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands)

    Vestmannaeyjar, or the Westman Islands, boast one of the world’s largest puffin colonies. Visit the charming island of Heimaey where you can spot puffins especially around the cliffs and sea stacks.

    Tjörnes Peninsula

    The Tjörnes Peninsula, located in North Iceland, is another excellent location for puffin lovers. Here, the birds can be seen diving into the sea or gathering food for their young.

    Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve

    Lastly, the Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve offers a dramatic view with its rocky arches and cliffs — a perfect backdrop for puffin observation. Between May and August, these birds nest on the cliffs, offering visitors a spectacular view of their daily lives.

    Each of these locations is not just a place to see puffins but also a chance to experience the beauty and diversity of Iceland’s natural landscapes. Remember to respect the wildlife and their habitats during your visits.

    Tours and Guided Experiences

    For an unforgettable glimpse at puffins in their natural habitat, consider booking a guided tour. These tours are offered during the puffin season, which generally stretches from May to August, ensuring that your chances of seeing them are heightened.

    • Morning and Evening Tours: Puffins are known for their fishing trips during the day and are best spotted early in the morning, from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., or in the evening, from 6:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. When & Where to See Puffins in Iceland offers insights into their daily patterns.
    • Starting Points: You can embark on your puffin watching adventure from various locations. Puffin Tours from Reykjavik are convenient if you’re staying in the capital. If you’re in the north, consider a tour from Húsavík.
    • Combination Tours: For a broader wildlife experience, look for tours that combine puffin watching with other activities, like whale watching. This can give you a more comprehensive experience of Iceland’s marine life.
    • Booking Advice: Since these tours are only available during the migration season and puffins are much-loved, it’s wise to book your spot early.

    Remember, the guided tours not only offer you the expertise of knowledgeable guides to help spot these charming birds but also provide the structure for a hassle-free experience. Just be sure to pack your binoculars and camera, as you’ll want to capture the memories of these colourful seabirds.

    Ethical Puffin Watching Practices

    When you’re embarking on the wonderful experience of puffin watching in Iceland, it’s crucial to observe these birds responsibly to ensure their safety and the preservation of their natural habitats. Here are a few guidelines to practise ethical birdwatching:

    • Maintain a Respectful Distance: Always stay at a safe distance from the puffins. Avoid encroaching on their breeding grounds or causing unnecessary stress to these creatures.
    • Follow Designated Paths: Adhere to marked trails and viewing platforms. This helps protect both the environment and the puffins from human disturbance.
    • No Feeding: Puffins have a specific diet; feeding them can be harmful. Refrain from giving them any human food.
    • Nesting Areas: Do not disturb their nests or attempt to handle any puffin — adult or chick.
    • Flash Photography: Avoid using flash when taking photos, as it can startle and disorient birds.
    • Quiet Observation: Keep noise to a minimum. Loud sounds can stress the puffins and disrupt their natural behaviour.
    • Litter: Take your rubbish with you. Littering can cause pollution and pose physical harm to wildlife.
    • Support Conservation Efforts: Consider supporting local conservation projects and organisations dedicated to puffin protection.
    Do’s and Don’ts of Puffin Watching
    ✅ Keep a safe distance❌ Don’t feed the puffins
    ✅ Stay on designated paths❌ Don’t touch or pick up puffins
    ✅ Use natural light for photography❌ Don’t disturb nesting sites
    ✅ Observe quietly❌ No flash photography
    ✅ Pack out your rubbish

    By following these simple but important guidelines, you can ensure your puffin watching is an enjoyable and harmless activity that respects these charming birds and their homes.

    Photography Tips for Puffin Observation

    When you’re setting out to photograph puffins in Iceland, preparation is key to capturing these charming birds and their unique behaviours.

    • Gear Up: Bring a zoom lens for your camera; a 70-200mm or larger is ideal. This will let you keep a respectful distance while still getting close-up shots of puffins in their natural habitat.
    • Timing is Everything: Aim for the main puffin season which is from May to mid-August. Early morning or late evening are the best times for photography, due to the softer light and increased puffin activity.
    • Stability is Essential: Use a tripod or monopod to steady your shots, especially in windy conditions common along the Icelandic cliffs.
    • Observe Silently: Puffins can be quite shy, so move slowly and quietly to avoid startling them.
    • Focus on Behaviour: Catch them in action; nest-building or with their colourful bills full of fish makes for dynamic images.
    • Patience Pays Off: Spend time observing their patterns. Their continuous flights to and from the nest provide numerous photo opportunities.

    Remember, puffins are part of Iceland’s natural heritage – always maintain a respectful distance and never disturb their habitat. With these tips in mind and your camera in hand, you’re ready to capture the magic of puffins in Iceland!

    Check out everything else Iceland has to offer during its varying seasons here!

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