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Puffins (fratercula arctica) are probably the most popular birds - they are certainly the most numerous. Estimates of numbers vary widely, but at least half (over 3 million) of the world’s population of North Atlantic puffins breed around Iceland’s coasts. Puffins return to land in April to nest in burrows and grassy cliff-tops and leave in early July to spend the rest of the year at sea.


Unfortunately, the future of the puffin is far from secure. In earlier years, predation for food probably had an impact but in recent years the decline in the number of sand eels (the principal food for the chicks) is of great concern. Warmer sea temperatures seem to result in fewer fish at the critical time and therefore fewer puffins. The true extent of this problem will not be known for some years as puffins, which pair for life, can live 30 years or more. Although only anecdotal, our experience is of more dead chicks and fewer nesting birds at the sites we visited this year.

Of Iceland’s four species of ‘black birds’, three occur in great numbers. Guillemots (uria aalge) and Brünnich’s guillemot (uria lomvia) - a bird of the high arctic - share the sheer cliffs with razor bills (alca torda). Guillemot eggs are regarded as a delicacy and the birds are harvested for food. The black guillemot (cephus grylle) is far less common. It is the only member of the family that has a black front. It is most numerous in the Western Fjords. Little auks (alle alle) have bred in Iceland, most recently on Grimsey, but are more frequent winter visitors from their nesting grounds in Greenland and Spitzbergen.

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