Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis ©Dubi Shapiro Website

Iceland is a Nordic island country between the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between North America and Europe, although a little closer to the latter, its closet neighbour is Greenland. It is linked culturally and politically with Europe and is the region’s most sparsely populated country. Its capital and largest city is Reykjavík, which is home to about a third of the country’s less than 400,000 residents. The official language of the country is Icelandic. Located on a rift between tectonic plates, Iceland’s geologic activity includes geysers and frequent volcanic eruptions. The interior consists of a volcanic plateau characterised by sand and lava fields, mountains, and glaciers, and many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate, despite a latitude just south of the Arctic Circle. Its high latitude and marine influence keep summers chilly, and most of its islands have a polar climate.

The main island covers nearly 102,000 km2 (39,000 square miles), but the entire country is 103,000 km2 (40,000 square miles) in size, of which over 60% is tundra. Iceland has about 30 minor islands, including the lightly populated Grímsey and the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. Lakes and glaciers cover almost 15% of its surface; only 23% is vegetated. The largest lakes are Þórisvatn reservoir and Þingvallavatn, other important lakes include Lagarfljót and Mývatn. Jökulsárlón is the deepest. Many fjords punctuate Iceland’s 4,970 km (3,088 mile) coastline, which is also where most settlements are situated. The island’s interior, the Highlands of Iceland, is a cold and uninhabitable combination of sand, mountains, and lava fields. The major towns are the capital city of Reykjavík, along with its outlying towns of Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður, and Garðabær, nearby Reykjanesbær where the international airport is located, and the town of Akureyri in northern Iceland. The island of Grímsey on the Arctic Circle contains the northernmost habitation of Iceland, whereas Kolbeinsey contains the northernmost point of Iceland. Iceland has three national parks: Vatnajökull National Park, Snæfellsjökull National Park, and Þingvellir National Park.

Þingvellir National Park – ©Ivan Sabljak, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Iceland belongs to the Arctic province of the Circum-boreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. Plantlife consists mainly of grassland, which is regularly grazed by livestock. The most common tree native to Iceland is Northern Birch, which formerly formed forests over much of Iceland, along with Aspen, Rowan, Common Juniper and other smaller trees, mainly willows.

The only native land mammal when humans arrived was the Arctic fox, which came to the island at the end of the ice age, walking over the frozen sea. On rare occasions, bats have been carried to the island with the winds, but they are not able to breed there. No native or free-living reptiles or amphibians are on the island. Wild mammals now also include the mink, mice, rats, rabbits, and reindeer. Polar bears occasionally visit the island, travelling from Greenland on icebergs, but no Icelandic populations exist. Marine mammals include Grey and Harbour (Common) Seals. Birds, especially seabirds, are an important part of Iceland’s animal life. Atlantic Puffins, skuas, and Black-legged Kittiwakes nest on its sea cliffs.

Birding Iceland

Iceland has long been famous for its volcanic activity and glaciers (having the biggest glacier in Europe); which is why it is called the land of ice and fire. To European birders it is also very famous for its three breeding bird species of American origin; Great Northern Diver, Harlequin Duck and Barrows Goldeneye and for one Arctic bird; Brünnich’s Guillemot. Iceland is also famous for the occurrence of vagrants, but its situation in the North Atlantic makes it an excellent place to look for rarities coming from both North America and Europe.

As Iceland is a relatively small island in the middle of the North Atlantic, it has only 73 breeding species. Of these, only 10 are passerines (including House Sparrow which breeds at only one site). On the other hand most breeding species are very numerous and are easily seen everywhere around the country. For example, the most numerous bird in Iceland is the Atlantic Puffin there being some three million pairs (one colony of 15,000 pairs is visible from the capital, Reykjavík)! However, although there are few breeding species, the Icelandic bird is over 350 bird species, an amazing total considering how few breeding species there are (21% of the total)!

Birdwatching is easy from spring to autumn, as most roads are clear of snow. The ideal period for a foreign birdwatcher to visit the country is between 20th May and 15th June. During this time all breeding birds have reached the island and are very obvious as they are defending territories. Furthermore, all ducks are still in breeding plumage and are easy to see. In the autumn it is more difficult to see some specialities and the ducks are in eclipse; in addition many migrants have left the country. On the other hand it’s the best time to look for rarities, and after good South West winds birders should keep their eyes open for American birds while birding in the Southwest or South of Iceland.

Volcanic Plateau, southwest Iceland – ©batintherain CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Winter birding is more difficult; as many roads get closed because of bad weather and/or snow. Anyway, in winter there are only a few species around, most of these being based in the Southwest part. On a good winters’ day the day list can reach 40 species (only in the South-West). On a good spring day birders can see up to 65-70 species in one day (the record is 71); most easily in the North-East (and as there is day-light all night long we can really bird for 24 hours!).

Birders coming here in spring time, when bird life is at its height, will be amazed by how common the birds are and how easy they are to find. As soon as you are out of the capital the birds take over! Even in downtown Reykjavík you can find breeding birds such as Arctic Tern, Greater Scaup, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Common Eider, Common Ringed Plover and many, many more. At this time of year you can count on seeing all Icelandic breeding birds except the following ones (unless you go further away than the South West of Iceland):

European & Leach’s Storm-petrels: The biggest colonies are at the Westman Islands, these birds arrive in April and a special trip around the colonies at night (preferably after mid-June) is needed to see these species. White-tailed Eagle: 35-40 pairs breed in the western part of Iceland and can be difficult to find. Breeding sites are kept secret. Grey/Red Phalarope: This beautiful shorebird has become quite rare and the Icelandic population is now only 20-40 pairs. Without knowledge of breeding sites (which are also kept secret!) this bird can be almost impossible to see during this time of year. Little Auk: This alcid unfortunately no longer breeds in Iceland. Snowy Owl: Many birders coming to Iceland think they have a chance to see this owl in the highlands, but this is wrong as the Snowy Owl is only a very irregular breeder (when it does breed it’s only one pair). There are 10-20 records annually, both in summer and winter.

Birdwatching in autumn is very different from the spring. Birds are mainly seen along the coast and by the middle of October most migrants have left the country. September-November is the period to look for rare birds, with mid-September to mid-October being the best time. American waders are usually seen until early October, while the peak occurrence of American passerines is around 10 Oct. American passerines have been noted annually in Iceland since 1968 with the exception of 1994.

In November the winter starts to show its face and birding becomes both short and monotonous. As mentioned above the Southwest part of Iceland is the best area in winter with daily totals as high as 40 species. From the end of November until early February it is possible to bird for only 3-6 hours, depending on the weather. Days are a little bit shorter in the north of Iceland.

Beware! Birders coming to Iceland in winter must watch the weather forecast VERY closely if they are planning a trip outside the capital area as the weather can change very rapidly. During the morning the sky may be clear with no wind but a few hours later the wind could be very strong mixed with a snowstorm! In April the migrants start to appear again with the main wave coming between mid-April and mid-May. The last migrants to arrive are the two phalarope species.

Top Sites
  • Djupivogur

    InformationSatellite View
    Djúpivogur might be an interesting choice for birdwatchers because visitors can experience unspoiled nature and see most species of Icelandic birds in their natural environment. The birdlife around Djúpivogur is of great variety, as is the landscape of this area with its three fjords, Berufjordur, Hamarsfjordur and Alftafjordur. Valleys are separated by mountains, which rise steeply from the fjords. There is a wide variety of natural features around Djupivogur which play their part in supporting the the variety of diverse array of local birds and wildlife. Alftafjordur and Hamarsfjordur are important stop-overs for birds like the common eider, the common scoter and many species of ducks and waders. Up to 3.600 black-tailed godwits have been seen there at the same time. The black-tailed godwits have been studied and ringed for many years and the area is therefore, very important. It is also listed as an IBA by Birdlife International. Marsh, ponds and beaches near Djupivogur are ideal for breeding and many species can be found there. Ducks like the common shelduck, northern shoveler breed there and also birds like the slavonian grebe. Mammals such as seals and reindeer can also be seen there frequently. Some areas around Djúpivogur are internationally recognized and must be protected.
  • Yann Kolbeinsson


  • Kristjan Ingimarsson

    Djupivogur |
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 419

    (As at June 2024)

    National Bird: Gyr Falcon Falco rusticolus

  • Avibase

    PDF Checklist
    This checklist includes all bird species found in Iceland , based on the best information available at this time. It is based on a wide variety of sources that I collated over many years. I am pleased to offer these checklists as a service to birdwatchers. If you find any error, please do not hesitate to report them.
  • BUBO

    Annotated List
    The list of Icelandic Birds used by BUBO Listing is derived from the Iceland Birding website. The list is updated each year after publication of the annual rarities report.
  • Natural History of Iceland

    Annotated List
    This section presents information on bird species on Iceland. It is almost complete!
  • Wikipedia

    Annotated List
    This is a list of the bird species recorded in Iceland. The avifauna of Iceland included a total of 419 confirmed species as of May 2023 according to the Icelandic Birding Pages (IBP) with supplemental additions from Avibase.
  • eBird

    PDF Checklist
    This checklist is generated with data from eBird (, a global database of bird sightings from birders like you. If you enjoy this checklist, please consider contributing your sightings to eBird. It is 100% free to take part, and your observations will help support birders, researchers, and conservationists worldwide.
Useful Reading

  • Birdwatcher's Map of Iceland

    | By Jon Baldur Hlídberg | Mal og menning | colour illustrations, colour distribution maps, dimensions: 70 × 100 cm | ISBN: Buy this book from
  • Birdwatching in Iceland

    | By Helgi Gudmundsson &, Jon Baldur Hlídberg | Iceland Nature Guides | 2001 | Hardback | 64 pages, b/w illustrations, maps | Out of Print | ISBN: 9789979929611 Buy this book from
  • Crossbill Guide: Iceland

    | By Dirk Hilbers | KNNV Uitgeverij | 2025 |" Paperback | 263 pages, colour photos, colour maps | ISBN: 9789491648038 Buy this book from
  • Icelandic Bird Guide

    | By Johann Oli Hilmarsson | Mal og menning | Paperback | Waterproof PVC cover | Dec 2011 | Edition: 2 | 341 pages, 700+ colour photos, colour illustrations, colour distribution maps ISBN: 9789979332206 Buy this book from
Museums & Universities
  • Sigurgeirs Bird Museum

    The bird museum is located on the farm Ytri-Nesl
  • Fuglavernd BirdLife Iceland

    Birds rely on finding food, water and finding suitable places for roosting and nesting. Human activities often threaten these requirements and put bird areas and habitats in danger. Fuglavernd's mission is the protection of birds and their habitats.
  • Icelandic Institute of Natural History

    The Institute conducts basic and applied research on the nature of Iceland in the fields of botany, geology and zoology with emphasis in biology on taxonomy and ecology; maintains scientific specimen collections; holds data banks on Icelandic nature; assembles literature on the natural history of Iceland; operates the Icelandic Bird-Ringing Scheme, prepares distribution, vegetation and geological maps; assists in environmental impact assessments; advises on sustainable use of natural resources and landuse; and assesses the conservation value of species, habitats and ecosystems.
  • Lake M

  • The Icelandic Nature Conservation Association

    The Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA) was established in May 1997. It is a conservation NGO, with the primary objective of conserving and protecting the wilderness of Iceland. From the outset, INCA’s primary objective was to establish a national park in the highlands, which consititute some 40% of Iceland’s 103.000 Vatnajoekull Glacier Parkwas established in June 2008. Since then valuable areas such as Langisjor Lake have been added to the Park , some 13.280 sq. km. (5127 sq. Miles).

Abbreviations Key

  • NR Heidmörk

    InformationSatellite View
    Situated on the south-east outskirts of Reykjavík city is Heiðmörk - a wonderful recreational area with many trails leading through a vast expanse of bushy vegetation and lava formations. More than four million trees have been planted there since 1950 and the already existing vegetation has thrived since the area was fenced off. The most prominent of the 26 species of trees planted is the Sitka spruce. Those fascinated by the more feathery residents of Reykjavík will be pleased to discover that 30 species of breeding birds are frequently spotted in the area.
  • NR Hornstrandir

    WebpageSatellite View
    Hornstrandir is a nature reserve located in the Westfjords, in the North West of Iceland. It is home to Iceland’s only native mammal, the cheeky, yet elusive, Arctic Fox, who preys upon the birds nesting along Hornstrandir’s towering cliff-faces. There is a hunting ban across Hornstrandir, meaning the fox populations are free to live without the threat of human intrusion. As for birdlife, enthusiasts can spot nesting Arctic Terns, Puffins and Black Guillemots. The region has the two of the largest bird cliffs in Europe, overshadowing the coastal paradise that is Hornvík Bay.
  • NR Hveravellir

    WebsiteSatellite View
    Nested by the highland route Kjalvegur connecting the north and the south,between the two big glaciers Langjökull and Hofsjökull, Hveravellir Nature Reserve is one of the last great wilderness areas of Europe.
  • National Parks Iceland

    WebpageSatellite View
    Where are the national parks in Iceland, and what attractions do they contain? Are there specific rules as to behaviour in the parks, and what’s the best way of experiencing them all in just one trip? What sets the national parks aside from the rest of the country’s beautiful nature? Read on to discover all there is to know about National Parks in Iceland.
  • Wetlands

    WebsiteSatellite View
    The convention entered into force in Iceland on 2 April 1978. Iceland currently has 6 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites), with a surface area of 128,666 hectares.
Sightings, News & Forums
  • Birding Iceland

    Discussion & Sightings
    A non-commercial site to provide the latest from the Icelandic birding scene, managed by EBR & YK.
  • Iceland Rare Bird Alert

    The report below shows observations of rare birds in Iceland. Includes both unreviewed and reviewed/approved observations.
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Birding Ecotours

    Tour Operator
    Our Iceland birding tours give you the chance to see some of northern Europe’s charismatic and most-wanted bird species. Iceland, the “Land of Ice and Fire”, sits in the North Atlantic and is an island nation formed from the diversion of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates...
  • FieldGuides

    Tour Operator
    Seabird colonies, endemic landbirds, spectacular scenery, and high-latitude natural history.
  • HeatherLea

    Tour Operator
    Summer is a great time for wildlife in the Land of Fire and Ice. The waders, wildfowl, seabirds and cetaceans of Iceland are justifiably world famous, and our trip is designed to show you the very best of them.
  • Iceland Driver

    Birding in Iceland with a private guide
  • Iceland Unlimited

    Tour Operator
    Iceland is a paradise for bird lovers. Go on a birding Iceland tour and see many different bird species...
  • Natural Habitat

    Tour Operator
    Explore less-visited areas including the far-flung Westfjords, with a private boat cruise to see whales and a seasonal summer puffin colony
  • Naturalist Journeys

    Tour Operator
    Go north for your next adventure! Our Iceland birding tour is also an incredible chance to experience geysers, grand waterfalls, wildflowers, glaciers, mountains, and seacoasts. Iceland is a natural crossroads for species of Europe and North America, and while typical for an island the species count is not high, the quality of views and mix of species makes for a delightful holiday.
  • NatureTrek

    Tour Operator
    A 9-day tour of lesser-known eastern Iceland focusing on the stunning scenery, breeding birds and other wildlife of this geologically active island.
  • Rockjumper

    Tour Operator
    Iceland - Land of Fire and Ice(8 days)

    Tour Operator
    Lying in the cold, gray waters of the North Atlantic, Iceland is a country that has long fired the imagination of travelers and birdwatchers alike. This is the land of ice and fire...
Trip Reports
  • 2017 [06 June] - Mike Watson

    PDF Report
    There were many birding highlights in a stunning volcanic landscape including: three Gyrfalcons; a pair of White-tailed Eagles; 25 Harlequin Ducks; 344(!) Barrow’s Goldeneyes; four Red and countless Red-necked Phalaropes on the delightful islet of Flatey and elsewhere; three Long-tailed Jaegers (or Skuas) at their only breeding site in Iceland as well as another in the Northwest Fjords, hundreds of km away and Thick-billed Murres (or Brünnich’s Guillemots) on their breeding cliffs.
  • 2018 [06 June] - Andy Walker - Birding Ecotours

    PDF Report
    This 9-day scheduled Iceland tour commenced in Reykjavík on the 10th of June 2018 and concluded back there on the 18 th of June 2018. This tour led through some of the most spectacular scenery in western and northern Iceland, taking in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the magnificent sea cliffs at Látrabjarg, the picturesque Flatey Island, the gorgeous Lake Mývatn, the stunning Skjálfandi Bay, as well as numerous other roadside stops (including the roaring Goðafoss Waterfall).
  • 2018 [12 December] - Wilton Farrelly

    PDF Report
    This was a four day break with my wife (a non birder) and was to include whatever birding I could get in between the ‘sightseeing’. There was however only to be one birding target for me – Gyr. I was hoping to lay the disappointment of Finland in 2001 to rest when I had spent 3 hours at a Gyr nest site to later find out that the reason we did not see one was that one of us misread the directions and the current nest was actually a further mile up the road...
  • 2019 [07 July] - Andreas Ranner

    PDF Report
    ... Among the many species seen Barrow’s Goldeneye, Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, more Rock Ptarmigans, Slavonian Grebe and Gyrfalcon were the most noteworthy....
  • 2019 [07 July] - Ivan Phillipsen

    This 11-day tour in July 2019 focused on the birds, botany, and geology of Iceland.
  • 2021 [06 June] - Dan Donaldson

    PDF Report
    ...We compiled a “Geothermal Hot Tub Bird List!” This list was tallied as the group relaxed in geothermal hot tubs at various locations we visited across Iceland. It’s a short, but sweet list and included Black-tailed Godwit, Snow Bunting, Common Snipe, Whimbrel, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Parasitic Jaeger. Perhaps a geothermal springs/hot tub bird list challenge is in order?..
  • 2022 [06 June] - Birding Ecotours

    PDF Report
    ... highlights including Pink-footed Goose, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Harlequin Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Short-eared Owl, Great Skua, Rock Ptarmigan, Thick-billed Murre (Brunnich’s Guillemot), Red-necked Phalarope, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Northern Wheatear, and Snow Bunting...
  • 2022 [06 June] - Mason Flint

    PDF Report
    ...We saw 76 species, nearly all of the regularly occurring summer birds in Iceland plus several difficult-to-see or rare species. Shorebirds were everywhere and easy to see and photograph with Black-tailed Godwits and Common Redshanks seemingly in every field or fencepost...
  • 2022 [06 June] - Mike Moore

    PDF Report
    Overall, we were pretty successful, and I ended up adding 11 new species to my life list: Pink-footed Goose, Common Scoter, European Golden Plover, Great Skua, Parasitic Jaeger, Thick-billed Murre, Common Gull, Northern Fulmar, European Shag, Redwing and Meadow Pipit. My biggest miss was Gyrfalcon.
  • 2022 [11 November] - Mike Watson

    PDF Report
    Harlequin is probably Iceland’s most iconic bird, there are few better locations to see them in the world than the rushing mountain rivers of northeast Iceland (image by Mike Watson)
  • 2023 [05 May] - Dave Jackson

    PDF Report
    Despite some challenging weather conditions at times, our intrepid and determined 'Team Undiscovered Iceland 2023', timed our excursions to mostly miss the rain and snow but had to battle through some gusty days to thoroughly enjoy the sights and sounds of this tour of a truly epic country.
  • 2023 [05 May] - H P Fiscjher & A Ebert

    PDF Report
    A classic Iceland birdwatching trip, essentially following the Crossbill Guide Iceland, and inspired by various online trip reports. We found virtually all species we wanted to find (Grey Phalarope, Barrow's Goldeneye, Harlequin Duck, Northern Diver, etc), with one exception, the Gyrfalcon.
  • 2023 [05 May] - Richard Thomas

    PDF Report
    Iceland is a very special place: a dramatic blend of scenery, lava fields, geothermal areas, a spouting geyser, huge waterfalls and, of course, some outstanding birds. Among the latter, Iceland can lay claim to being among the best locations worldwide for those seeking the spectacular Gyr Falcon...
  • 2023 [06 June] - Dave Mehlman

    PDF Report
    Annotated list
Places to Stay
Other Links
  • Birdlife on Iceland

    For the bird - watcher Iceland has many attractions. Though, despite popular opinion, not truly Arctic, it has a fair sprinkling of birds, which come into this category. Another interesting feature is that Iceland is the westernmost outpost of a number of Old World bird species and easternmost of some New World ones. In all some 300 bird species have been seen in Iceland at one time to another, but of these only 73 have, up to recently, been nesting regularly in the country.
  • Birds of Iceland

    Iceland lies in the North Atlantic just under the arctic circle. It also lies between Europe and the American continent, Greenland being relatively nearby. This has implications on the composition of birds species on Iceland

    The Icelandic bird and nature experience
  • Natural History of Iceland

    This site deals with the birds of Iceland, the plants of Iceland and the landscape of Iceland. It offers photographic guides to characteristic floral elements of Iceland, the birdlife of Iceland as well as landscape images of this remarkable island
  • The Artic bestiary

    Webpage interactive guide to Iceland's Wildlife (including birds). The guide includes Great Skua, Icelandic Gyrfalcon, Snowy Owl and Northern Ravel drew in oil painting style and a voiceover about each animal...
Photographers & Artists
  • Artist - Jon Baldur Hlidberg

    The illustrator of a number of books on the birds of Iceland - and he is brilliant!
  • Gallery - Some Icelandic Bird Pictures

    Gallery [French]
  • Photographer - Dick Vuijk

    Some excellent images with accompanying text

Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND

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