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Icelandic Wildlife: Exploring the Echanting Untamed Nature


Icelandic Wildlife

Iceland, a land of fire and ice, is home to a diverse range of Iceland animals that have adapted to the island's unique and challenging environment. From the icy tundra to the volcanic landscapes, the Iceland wildlife boasts a fascinating array of species that thrive in this remote corner of the world.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the intriguing Iceland fauna, including animals native to Iceland, its national bird, insects, predators, and more. So, let's embark on a journey to uncover the mysteries of what animals live in Iceland and learn how to responsibly experience the island's breathtaking wildlife.

Iceland Animals: A Comprehensive Overview 

Iceland's diverse animal kingdom showcases the incredible adaptability and resilience of its fauna. From seabirds and land mammals to marine life and insects, the variety of Iceland animals is sure to captivate anyone with a passion for wildlife. In this section, we will explore some of the most iconic and unique species that inhabit the island and the habitats they call home.

Seabirds: Puffins, Guillemots, and More

Iceland's coastal cliffs and rocky shorelines provide essential nesting sites for a wide range of seabird species, including the beloved Atlantic puffin, black-legged kittiwakes, and various types of guillemots. These birds are not only an important part of the island's ecosystem but also a major draw for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Atlantic Puffin

The Atlantic puffin is one of Iceland's most iconic and easily recognizable birds, thanks to its colorful beak and distinctive appearance. These small seabirds breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs, where they dig burrows to lay their eggs and raise their young.

Iceland animals

Puffins are known for their exceptional diving abilities, as they plunge into the sea to catch small fish such as sand eels and herring. The best time to see puffins in Iceland is between May and August, when they are breeding and raising their chicks.

Black-legged Kittiwake

Another common seabird species found along Iceland's coastlines is the black-legged kittiwake. These gull-like birds also nest on cliffs, where they build their nests from seaweed, grass, and other materials. Kittiwakes feed primarily on fish, which they catch by diving into the water or snatching from the surface. They are easily identified by their black-tipped wings and distinct call, which sounds like "kitti-wake."

Black-legged kittiwake


Several types of guillemots can also be found nesting on Iceland's cliffs, including the common guillemot and the Brünnich's guillemot. These sleek, black-and-white seabirds are expert divers, capable of reaching impressive depths in search of fish and other prey. Guillemots lay their eggs directly on the narrow ledges of cliffs, relying on the unique shape of their eggs to prevent them from rolling off.

Icelands Guillemots

Great Auk

A flightless seabird that went extinct in the mid-19th century. The Great Auk was once abundant in the North Atlantic but was hunted to extinction for its meat, feathers, and eggs. Today, it serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of conservation efforts to protect Iceland's unique wildlife.

Iceland's Great Auk

Red-necked Phalarope

A small wading bird that breeds in the wetlands and marshes of Iceland. The Red-necked Phalarope is known for its unusual mating system, where the females are more brightly colored than the males and take on the role of courting and defending their mates.

Red-necked Pharlarope

White-tailed Eagle

Iceland's largest bird of prey, the White-tailed Eagle, is a powerful and majestic predator. Although it was once on the brink of extinction in Iceland, conservation efforts have slowly helped to increase its population. Today, these eagles can be found in remote coastal areas and cliffs, where they feed on fish, birds, and small mammals.

Iceland's eagle

Harlequin Duck

A strikingly colored duck species that breeds in Iceland's fast-flowing rivers and streams. The Harlequin Duck is well-adapted to its harsh environment, with strong legs and claws that help it navigate the turbulent waters in search of food.

Harlequin Duck

Land Mammals: From Iconic Horses to Resourceful Foxes 

While Iceland's land mammal population is relatively limited, the species that do inhabit the island have developed unique adaptations to survive in its challenging environment. In this section, we will explore some of the most iconic and resourceful land mammals found in Iceland, including the Icelandic horse and the Arctic fox.

Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic horse is a small but sturdy breed known for its strength, agility, and unique gaits. This hardy horse has played a significant role in Icelandic history and culture and remains a beloved symbol of the nation.

Descendants of horses brought to Iceland by the Vikings, Icelandic horses have evolved in isolation for over a thousand years. They are known for their two additional gaits, the tölt and the flying pace, which provide them with exceptional smoothness and speed on the rugged Icelandic terrain.

Icelandic horses

Arctic Fox

As the only mammal native to Iceland, the Arctic fox is a small, resourceful animal that can be found throughout the island, from the icy tundra to the rocky coastlines. Arctic foxes have two distinct color morphs: the white morph, which turns completely white in the winter for camouflage in the snow, and the blue morph, which remains dark gray throughout the year.

This variation in coloration provides the foxes with a significant advantage when it comes to blending in with their surroundings and avoiding detection by predators.

In addition to their remarkable camouflage abilities, these Iceland tundra animals are also known for their exceptional hearing, which allows them to locate prey beneath the snow. They primarily feed on birds, eggs, and small mammals, but can also be opportunistic scavengers when food is scarce.

Iceland animals: Artic fox

Marine Life: Whales, Seals, and More 

Iceland's surrounding waters are teeming with a diverse array of marine life, including various species of whales, seals, and other marine animals. These creatures are a vital part of the Icelandic ecosystem and offer unique wildlife-watching opportunities for visitors.

Greenland Shark 

This slow-moving, deep-sea shark is one of the few shark species found in Icelandic waters. The Greenland shark is known for its longevity, with some individuals estimated to live for over 400 years.

Greenland shark fermenting


Also known as the killer whale, the orca is a powerful and intelligent marine predator that can occasionally be spotted in Icelandic waters. These highly social animals are known for their complex social structure and hunting strategies.

Orca or Killer whale

Humpback Whale

One of the most acrobatic and charismatic whale species, humpback whales visit Icelandic waters to feed during the summer months. Their playful behavior, impressive size, and haunting songs make them a favorite among whale watchers.

Humpback whale


Seals are another common marine mammal found along Iceland's coastlines. Both harbor seals and gray seals can be spotted in the country's waters, basking on rocky shores or swimming in search of fish. Visitors can often observe seals while exploring the coastline or by joining specialized seal-watching tours.

Iceland wildlife: Seals

Insects and Other Invertebrates 

While Iceland's insect population may be less diverse than in other countries, the island is still home to a variety of invertebrate species, including spiders, beetles, and butterflies. Many of these creatures have adapted to the unique challenges posed by Iceland's climate and environment.


Iceland is home to around 40 species of spiders, none of which are harmful to humans. These arachnids play a crucial role in the ecosystem, helping to control insect populations and serving as a food source for other animals.

Spiders in Iceland


Beetles make up a significant portion of Iceland's insect population, with over 300 species documented on the island. They can be found in various habitats, including forests, wetlands, and grasslands.

Iceland animals: Beetles


Despite the harsh climate, Iceland is home to a small but diverse butterfly population. Around 20 species of butterflies have been recorded in the country, including the iconic small tortoiseshell and the vibrant orange-tip. These colorful insects can be spotted in meadows and other habitats throughout the island during the warmer months.

Icelandic butterfly

Migratory Birds: Shorebirds, Ducks, and Geese 

In addition to its resident bird species, Iceland also serves as an important stopover site for migratory birds during their long journeys between their breeding and wintering grounds. Many species of shorebirds, ducks, and geese can be found throughout the country during the migration season, offering unique birdwatching opportunities for visitors.


Iceland's wetlands and marshes are home to a variety of shorebirds, such as sandpipers, plovers, and redshanks. These birds can be found wading in shallow waters in search of insects, crustaceans, and other small prey. Some of the most easily recognizable shorebirds include the black-tailed godwit, the golden plover, and the common redshank.

Iceland's shorebirds

Ducks and Geese

Ducks and geese are also common visitors to Iceland's wetlands during the migration season. Species such as the eider, the common scoter, and the greater scaup can be found swimming in the country's lakes, rivers, and coastal waters, feeding on aquatic plants, insects, and small fish. Geese, such as the pink-footed goose and the greylag goose, can be seen grazing in grassy areas and wetlands throughout the country.

Iceland animals: duck

Iceland National Bird: The Iconic Atlantic Puffin 

The Iceland national bird, the Atlantic Puffin, is a small, colorful seabird with a distinctive appearance and playful demeanor. Its bright orange beak and black-and-white plumage make it easily recognizable and a favorite among birdwatchers and tourists alike. Iceland is home to one of the largest Atlantic Puffin colonies in the world, with millions of puffins nesting on its coastal cliffs during the breeding season.

Visitors to Iceland can spot puffins at several locations around the island, such as the Westman Islands, Látrabjarg cliffs, and Dyrhólaey. It is essential, however, to maintain a respectful distance and avoid disturbing the puffins, as they are a vulnerable species.

Atlantic puffin

The Only Mammal Native to Iceland: The Intriguing Arctic Fox 

As mentioned earlier, the Arctic fox is the only mammal native to Iceland, and it has developed impressive adaptations to survive in the country's challenging environment. These small, resourceful animals can be found throughout the island, from the icy tundra to the rocky coastlines.

It boasts a thick white or blue-gray fur coat that helps it survive in the harsh Arctic climate. The Arctic Fox is known for its ability to change fur color with the seasons, turning brown or gray during the summer months to blend in with the surroundings. It is a curious and intelligent species, often seen in Iceland's national parks and nature reserves.

The best chance to spot these elusive creatures is during the winter months, although their white fur barely stands out against the snow-covered terrain. The Arctic Fox is a symbol of Iceland's unique wildlife and is cherished for its adaptability and survival skills in one of the world's harshest environments.

Iceland's arctic Fox

Conservation and Responsible Wildlife Watching

Conservation efforts are in place to protect the Arctic fox population in Iceland, as they are considered a crucial part of the country's ecosystem. Visitors who are lucky enough to spot one of these elusive creatures in the wild should remember to observe from a distance and avoid disturbing the animals in their natural habitat.

Iceland Predators: The Role of Predators in Iceland's Ecosystem 

Iceland's ecosystem includes a small number of predators, which play a vital role in maintaining the balance of the country's wildlife. Among the most notable Iceland predators are the Arctic fox and the Gyrfalcon.

The Arctic fox feeds on a diverse diet that includes birds, eggs, small mammals, and even carrion. The Arctic fox is a critical component of the ecosystem, as it helps control the populations of prey species.

The Gyrfalcon, Iceland's largest falcon species, is another significant predator. Known for its impressive size and powerful flight, the Gyrfalcon preys on birds like ptarmigans and seabirds, as well as small mammals. Its presence contributes to the health of Iceland's bird populations by controlling their numbers and preventing overpopulation.

Iceland wildlife: Gyrfalcon

What Dangerous Animals Live in Iceland? Debunking Myths and Misconceptions

When it comes to dangerous animals in Iceland, there are few to worry about. In fact, Iceland is known for its lack of venomous snakes, large predators, and other potentially harmful wildlife, making it a relatively safe destination for nature enthusiasts. Let's explore some potential misconceptions and clarify the risks associated with Icelandic wildlife.

Polar Bears

While there are no native large predators like bears or wolves, there have been occasional reports of polar bears arriving at the island after drifting on ice floes from Greenland. These occurrences are rare, and authorities quickly address such situations to ensure the safety of both the public and the bears.

Polar bear in Iceland

Arctic Terns

The Arctic tern is another animal that some might perceive as dangerous, as it can be quite aggressive in defending its nesting territory. However, these small birds pose little risk to humans and are best appreciated from a safe distance.

Arctic Terns

How to Experience Iceland Wildlife: Tips for Responsible Wildlife Watching

Iceland offers countless opportunities to observe and appreciate its incredible wildlife. To ensure that your wildlife encounters are both enjoyable and responsible, follow these guidelines:

  1. Keep a safe distance: Always maintain a respectful distance from wild animals to avoid causing them stress or harm. This is particularly important for nesting birds and animals with young offspring.
  2. Stay on designated paths: Avoid straying from marked trails and roads to minimize your impact on the environment and prevent disturbing wildlife in their natural habitats.
  3. Be patient and quiet: Wildlife watching often requires patience and a keen eye. Keep noise levels to a minimum to increase your chances of spotting animals without causing them distress.
  4. Leave no trace: Dispose of any waste properly and avoid leaving any trace of your presence in the natural environment.
  5. Support local conservation efforts: Choose to visit protected areas, wildlife sanctuaries, and parks that promote conservation and responsible tourism.

By following these guidelines, you can experience the beauty of Iceland animals while ensuring their wellbeing and the preservation of their habitats for future generations.

Resposible Wildlife watching

Cherishing and Protecting Iceland's Unique Wildlife

Whether you're an avid birdwatcher, a marine life enthusiast, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of nature, Iceland offers unparalleled opportunities to witness the remarkable biodiversity that thrives within its borders. From the iconic puffins nesting on coastal cliffs to the elusive Arctic fox roaming the tundra, each encounter with Iceland's wildlife is a moment to be treasured.

So, as you embark on your Icelandic adventure, be prepared to be captivated by the wonders of the island's wildlife and inspired by the resilience and adaptability of its inhabitants. And remember, your actions can make a difference in preserving these natural wonders for generations to come.