Atlantic Puffins, otherwise known as Common Puffins, begin their return to Iceland in April after spending the winter months living out on the open sea. This year, the first Atlantic Puffin of the season was spotted on March 30th at the Tjörnes Peninsula in northeast Iceland. To prep you for your puffin watching tour, see below for our gallery of beautiful Atlantic Puffin photographs.

See also: Wildlife & Animals in Iceland 

Thanks to its adorable waddle, brightly coloured bill and diminutive size, puffins are often referred to as ‘Sea Parrots’, or “Clowns of the Sea”. Over the last decade, they have become an iconic symbol of Iceland, with their behaviour reflecting the ancient practice of Icelanders taking to the sea for months at a time.

Puffins are not Iceland’s official bird, however, despite most considering them so. This title is held by the Gyrfalcon, the largest of the falcon species.

See also: Birdlife in Iceland 

Puffins differ from many bird species in unusual ways. For one, they choose to dig holes on cliffsides rather than nests, and routinely mate for life. A single chick—known as a puffling—is raised over the summer, and couples will return to the same burrow year after year, renovating at the beginning of each season.

A poor flyer, but an excellent swimmer, Atlantic Puffins can live for up to twenty years in the wild, with their main predator being the great, black-beaked gull. Funnily enough, puffins are equally carnivorous, living off small fish alone.

Approximately 1.1 million of Iceland’s puffins breed on the Westman Islands, making it one of the largest puffin colonies on earth. Roughly 10 million puffins choose to breed in Iceland, a staggering 60% of the entire puffin population worldwide.

See also: Iceland’s Troubled Environment

In the 1900s, hunting caused their numbers to dwindle so rapidly that a 30-year ban was imposed. Today, their numbers are back to a sustainable level, and hunting is undertaken using different methods and regulated by strict quotas.

Even so, puffins are still under threat. Climate change continues to burden and pressure puffin populations, and overfishing has made for a significant drop in food stocks. According to a 2018 report by BirdLife International, some 40% of the world’s 11,000 bird species are in decline, with one in eight—Atlantic puffins included—threatened with extinction.

One of the best methods for further protecting Iceland’s puffins is to partake in a whale watching and puffin tour.

Not only will you see these marvellous creatures up close, but your guide will make sure to teach you a greater depth of knowledge, endearing you further to them. The best wildlife tours for viewing puffins are undertaken in Reykjavík, Akureyri and the Westman Islands.