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  • Sara Moniz

Come meet the puffins

There are many reasons why locals, artists and tourists are seduced by the Atlantic puffin. These beautiful little birds, with their brightly coloured beaks, emotive watery eyes, and clumsy, wobbling walk, are naturally likeable creatures.

Puffins can be seen in Iceland from early May until August each year. They spend most of their lives at sea, but return to land to form breeding colonies during spring and summer. Iceland is one of those colonies, it is in fact the breeding home for about 60 percent of the world's Atlantic puffins, it is the largest colony in the world with over six million birds. The fact that they nest in the same places they were born, and only nest when there are other puffins around, means that certain places in Iceland are undoubtedly the best in the world for this special kind of birdwatching.

There is more than one puffin species but the one that breeds in Iceland is the so-called Atlantic Puffin. What makes them special is the penguin like colour with a very colourful beak. The beak fades to gray during the winter but blooms into orange colour in the spring time, probably to attract potential mates. They are also very easy to attribute with human traits, after all, they nest in lifelong pairs, nurture their chicks as a couple and have clear social bonds within the colony.

Puffins are sea-birds and they are excellent swimmers using their wings to stroke underwater and can dive up to 60 metres. They are not only good swimmers but can also flap their wings very fast up to 440 times per minute and can reach speeds of 80 km an hour. Is quite an entertaining sight to see a puffin take off in flight from the ocean, with a body built for agile swimming, not for flying, they have to clumsily and energetically sprint over the water, maniacally flapping their wings, to gain enough balance to lift into the air.

They love to build their nests in rocky cliffs so therefore you can most likely meet them at Látrabjarg in the Westfjords among many other places around Iceland. Látrabjarg is one of Europe's biggest bird cliffs. This westernmost point of Iceland is really a line of several cliffs, 14 kilometres long and up to 441 metres high. Safe from foxes, the birds are fearless, and provide stunning photographic opportunities from close range. The puffins are particularly docile and are the ones frequenting the grass in the higher part of the cliffs.

Puffins are threatened according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN); their populations are in decline across their range, including in Iceland, so ensuring that you do not endanger their protection will help in their recovery efforts.

Iceland is the puffin-watching capital of the world. No matter where you are based in the country with the exception of the Highlands, a puffin colony will be easy to reach and return from within a day. If travelling in summer, then you should take the chance to get to at least one of them, you will not regret it. Seeing these creatures is a blessing, no matter where you are in the world. The fact, however, that in Iceland you can get so close to them, that they nest in such numbers, and that their nesting grounds are in such beautiful locations, puffin-watching over here has a special kind of magic! Don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to add this to your itinerary.


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