Travel search
Can't find it? Try searching for it :)

Wild Life

Birding in Reykjanes peninsula

Iceland is known for its unique landscape, little spoiled nature and its bird fauna has long been a subject of interest. It is an island of very few predators and is therefore important for breeding bird species. With warmer spring the migrating bird species come in from Europe and breed over the summer while the more arctic species migrate from the north and spend the winter around the Icelandic coast.

What to expect

Iceland has 75 regular breeding species and number of occasional nesting bird species. Total number of birds species in wintertime in Iceland is around 40 - 50. Although Iceland's bird fauna may not be species-rich, it is in many ways unique. Iceland is home to very large seabird-, wader- and waterfowl- populations. Indeed, some populations are so large that a significant part of the entire world population for a given species is found here in Iceland. For example half of the European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria), Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), Redshank (Tringa totanus), 40% of the Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) population and a big portion of the Pink-Footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus). Many species have their names drawn from the fascinating land out in the north Atlantic. Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides) for example has never bred in Iceland but stays here over the winter. The Nearctic Red Knot (Calidris canutus islandica) migrates to the breeding sites in northern Greenland and the Canadian high arctic with a stop for food in the west part of Iceland along with other arctic breeding migrants. Sightings of around 400 bird species have been confirmed to date within Iceland, many of which are common or rare vagrants. With all these vagrant, transit birds, breeding and wintering species the Reykjanes peninsula is an ideal birdwatching area.

This website and our published birding map describes sites that are good for birdwatching and gives information about how to get there and where to find scares species that are frequently seen in the area.

Time for birding

The best time for a birding trip depends on the goal. If you are in Iceland for breeding species then late May to June is the best time when all migrants have arrived and birds are conspicuous, defending their territories. If the goal is however to try out for new rare American species for your western Palearctic list we recommend that you put on your raincoat and come in the period from September to November. The website and map focuses on where one could find scarce species such as Harlequin Ducks(Histrionicus histrionicus) or Great Northern Diver (Gavia immer), but the more common species, for example Meadow pipits (Anthus pratensis) and Golden Plovers (Pluvialis apricaria), are not mentioned as they are very easy to find in many areas.

Access to sites

Accessibility to most of the birding spots is good as most roads are paved, unpaved roads are specially marked. Concerning gear, good binoculars are necessary but a spotting scope is always useful.

Walking is permitted on uncultivated land. However, please avoid taking shortcuts over fenced areas, pastures and private plots. Follow the rules in areas under special wildlife or vegetation protection. Follow marked footpaths, where they exist. These paths make for a safer trip, as well as reduce wear and tear on sensitive natural elements.

Landowners may not hinder passage of walkers alongside rivers, lakes and ocean, or on tracks and paths. There should be a gate or stile close to any hindrances.

Birding trails - Garður - Kalmanstjörn

Garður - Kalmanstjörn

Garður

Travelling from Keflavík to the tip of the peninsula one can see Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis), Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta), young Gyrfalcons (Falco rusticolus) and Merlins (Falco columbarius). About 10 km north of Reykjanesbær is a town named Garður. Garður has one of the best vagrant ponds on the peninsula. Birds coming from the Atlantic often stop on these ponds for a rest. Many good species have been seen there, for example Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica), American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus), Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus), and many others. There are three ponds in Garður: Útskálasíki, Miðhúsasíki, and Gerðasíki. It is possible to walk around the ponds or even drive (4x4). Útskálasíki usually has the smallest diversity but the grass and fields around the pond are worth checking. Miðhúsasíki often offers close look at waders, sitting gulls and ducks, best seen when located at the houses on the southwest side. Gerðasíki can be scoped from the town's swimming pool and from the road on the northeast part of the pond. Looking at the sea from spring to autumn can produce flocks of Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), occasional European Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus), skuas (Stercorarius sp.), Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica), and other seabirds.

Garðskagaviti

The northernmost part of the peninsula has two lighthouses where you can find public toilets. The area around the lighthouses at Garðskagi is a known migration route and birds flock in from the highlands, and from Greenland and Canada. Seabirds fly close to shore on their way to the feeding grounds in Faxaflói. Scanning the sea to the north can be good for whale watching and seabird watching. The area is ideal for passing migrants as well as for rare vagrants. Lapland Longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus) are seen annually, wintering eiders, other sea ducks, and Great Northern Divers are found feeding on fish and mollusks close to land. Dogs are not allowed to walk free in the area. One of the best ways to find rarities in the area is to walk the landfill from the fish factory in Garður all the way to the lighthouse at Garðskagi. It is a good, paved path with birds on both sides!

Ásgarður

There is a gravel road close to Garðskagaviti which runs south. That road goes next to a farm called Ásgarður. On fields close to Ásgarður one can see huge flocks of European Golden Plovers in October. Annually there are American Golden Plovers (Pluvialis dominica) mixed in the groups with occasional Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis). In summer these fields have breeding Meadow Pipits, plovers, Whimbrels, Eurasian Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus), Arctic Terns, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus).

Garðskagaviti - Sandgerði Coast

The coast from Garðskagaviti to Sandgerði is a well-known area for bird watchers. Unfortunately, there are many private areas there but the golf course at Hafurbjarnarstaðir and Þóroddsstaðir/Nátthagi is placed next to a large pond with good places for spotting scope and walking the shore. Have a lookout for Rock Ptarmigans in the lava field and in the grass/snow in this area, especially east of Sandgerði and around the road close to Hafurbjarnarstaðir. There are ponds in many places near the shore on private land (Flankastaðir and Klöpp) so again, it is good to walk the shoreline.

Sandgerði

When you enter Sandgerði coming from Garður you will see a small pond on the right, a large pond on the left and a shallow pond a bit farther on the left. There are many breeding ducks in the larger pond over the summertime, and gulls clean themselves in this freshwater pond all year round. Don't skip the small ponds, there is always a good chance of a vagrant. In recent years there have been Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii) and Bonaparte's Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) on the small ponds. There is a hide at the side of the big pond but we don´t recommend it as it is badly located, chances are high that you have flushed all the birds away before entering the hide. After passing the small pond on the right, take the small gravel road next to the old fish factory and drive or walk to the edge of the sea. Pipes running from the fish factories wash pieces of fish to the beaches which gulls, worms and waders feed on. These are famous stopover sites for Sanderlings (Calidris alba), Dunlins (Calidris alpina), Ringed Plovers, Golden Plovers, Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) and other waders. Please be on the lookout for color-ringed Sanderlings and Oystercatchers, probably ringed in the Sudurnes Science and Learning Center. The pipe is a great attraction for gulls and fulmars and in winter there are always a few Blue Fulmars close to the pipe. Sandgerði is a big attraction for gulls, such as Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus), Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus), Iceland Gull, Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), and Common Gull (Larus canus). One should always be on the lookout for vagrant gulls such as Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus), Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis), American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus), Ross's Gull (Rhodostethia rosea), Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea), or Sabine's Gull (Xema sabini).

The Sudurnes Science and Learning Center is located at Garðvegur 1 with toilets and great facilities for eating your own lunch. It is also a museum that offers two exciting exhibitions if you are interested in learning more about Icelandic nature and wildlife, both above and below sea level, as well as researches related to the areas.

Sandgerði harbour and mudflat is one of the most important places for migrating birds and breeding birds in the area. The mudflat can be looked at from many different points of view but under the chicken farm in the south part you can find dense groups of waders. Have your eyes open for Gyrfalcons and Merlins hunting near the shore. Entering the mudflat on motor vehicles is forbidden.

South of the mudflat is a rocky shore. On that shore we have one of the few spots of wintering Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata). No one knows were the birds breed but there are about 5-15 birds seen every winter in this area. Total number of Curlews in the wintertime in Iceland is around 40-70, with very few records of breeding Curlews. South of the rocky shore is a long sandy beach which carries large numbers of waders.

Norðurkot

After driving past the harbour area along Stafnesvegur-road to the south you can see many ponds on the way that you should scope carefully. The best ones are at the Norðurkot area. This is the biggest eider colony on the peninsula, and here the farmers collect down for export. It is closed during the breeding time, except the paved road itself. You should never drive fast through there in summertime because there is an Arctic tern colony close to the road and the birds use the road as a sitting area. The area is watched 24 hours a day during the breeding season and the area is fenced off with nets. Intruders, such as foxes, minks, and gulls that enter the area are shot.

Hvalsnes

Going further south you will eventually see a beautiful stone church of Hvalsnes, where you can park and walk the area. By the sea you will find a small sandy inlet, a good location to spot waders. Between Hvalsnes and Hafnir is a farm called Stafnes which has a parking lot with a short walk to a lighthouse. Shoreline and seabird watching is worth a try in summer and autumn. Close to the lighthouse you can find plunging Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus) and birds going to feeding grounds close to land.

Ósar and Hafnir

Ósar is a small shallow bay close to the village of Hafnir. Ósar has a large sandy mudflat that is exposed on low tide. In the bay you can find all the wader species, and big flocks of ducks are seen both in autumn and winter. Winter counts in the area have around 5-10 Great Northern Divers, hundreds of ducks, such as Long-tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis), Mallards, Harlequin Ducks, Greater Scaup (Aythya marila), and Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator), but mainly Common Eiders. Hafnir and Ósabotnar are a good place for wintering Gyrfalcon and Merlin. The Harlequin Duck is one of the most sought after species for visiting birders, as Iceland is its only European breeding ground. Harlequins winter at sea in areas where the sea is rough, and is rarely found on calm, sheltered waters. From late September to mid-April it can be seen at sea close to the harbour in Hafnir. The harbour in Hafnir has pictures of birds and some information about birds in the area. It is a perfect place to set up a scope and look at all the islands and skerries in the cove. Ósar and Hafnir are one of the best places in Iceland for birdwatching in the winter time. Great Skuas (Stercorarius skua) and Arctic Skuas (Stercorarius parasiticus) nest in the lava and short grass in the Hafnir area.

Kalmanstjörn

Kalmanstjörn is a small cove by a fish farm south of Junkaragerði. The runoff from the fish farm lures in ducks and gulls while big flocks of wintering Harlequins and divers/loons use the area for feeding during winter.

Hafnarberg

Hafnarberg is a bird cliff on the western part of the peninsula. Breeding birds there are Northern Fulmars, Black-legged Kittiwakes (Rissa tridacyla), Common Guillemot (Uria aalge), Brünnich's Guillemot (Uria lomvia), Razorbill (Alca torda), and Atlantic Puffin. There is a good parking lot with a bird sign at the start of the route. It takes about 20-30 minutes to walk down to the cliff and on the way you can see breeding Arctic Skuas.

Birding trails - Hraunsvík - Kleifarvatn

Hraunsvík

Hraunsvík is a bird cliff east of Grindavík. Kittiwakes and Fulmars breed on the cliff, but seabirds, ducks, and marine mammals often catch prey very close to land.

Krýsuvíkurberg

Krýsuvíkurberg is by far the biggest bird cliff on the peninsula. It is about 20 minutes' drive east of Grindavík. The drive from the main road down to the cliff is a rough 4x4 road, but it's worth the walk in summer time. It takes 20-30 minutes to walk the entire cliff slowly. There are approximately 21,000 Black-Legged Kittiwakes, 20,000 Common Guillemots, 2,600 Brünnich's Guillemots and 8,700 Razorbills, few Northern Fulmars, European Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), puffins, Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle), Herring Gulls, and on top of the cliff are breeding Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis), and Purple Sandpipers (Calidris maritima).

Krýsuvík and Kleifarvatn

Krýsuvík is a geothermal area on the way to Reykjavík. In that area you can find a few lakes, Grænavatn, Arnarvatn, and Kleifarvatn. There you can find breeding water birds such as Great Northern Diver, Whooper Swans, Greylag Goose (Anser anser), Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca), Mallard and a few pairs of Goosander (Mergus merganser). In the fields and the mountains you can find the same meadow breeding birds that breed inland on the peninsula varying according to the vegetation: Golden Plovers, Meadow Pipits, Common Redshanks, Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), Whimbrels, Northern Wheatear, and occasional Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa), Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, and Red-necked Phalarope.

Birding trails - Sandvík - Grindavík

Sandvík - Grindavík

Stóra-Sandvík

Stóra-Sandvík is a small inlet with a big sandy beach, while on the inner part of the inlet is a large pond with brackish water close to the Bridge Between Continents. You can find Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus), geese, ducks, and gulls on the pond all year round. Red-necked Phalaropes congregate on the pond before the start of the post-breeding migration, with hundreds there in July.

Reykjanes-Eldey, Valahnúkur, and Karl.

Reykjanes is a small cape at the lower part of the Reykjanesskagi Peninsula. There you can find the only Arctic Tern colony in a geothermal area. Valahnúkur is a hill at the point of the cape. This site is very picturesque and great for seabird watching, along with the breeding Kittiwakes and Northern Fulmars in the southern cliff walls. Karl is a cliff just outside of Valahnúkur with breeding Kittiwakes and a few Fulmars and Razorbills. Further out is an island called Eldey. Eldey is the largest gannet colony in Iceland, with 14,000 - 18,000 pairs, other breeding species are mostly Kittiwakes (3,232 pairs), Common Guillemots (2,700 pairs), Brünnich's Guillemots (510 pairs), and Fulmars.

Víkur

Víkur is the sea area out from Hrafnkelsstaðaberg. Driving from Reykjanes, you will find a rough gravel road accessible by 4x4. Take the exit close to some old houses. Drive the road till the end and scope the sea. There are big flocks of eiders, and chance of Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra), Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca), or its close relative, White-Winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi).

Arfadalsvík

Staður is a farm west of the town of Grindavík. There is a fish farm west of Staður with a large runoff that lures in gulls and waders, but the area is closed off from the road. East of Staður is a rocky and a sandy beach that stretches 4-5 km, called Arfadalsvík. It is one of the few rocky and sandy high diversity littoral shores on the south coast of Iceland. It is an oasis on a long stretch of the lifeless sandy south coast and therefore a very important area for birds and other littoral, or sublittoral, life. Access is best either from parking near the church at Staður or at the golf course. You can on a 4x4 follow a rough gravel road east of the red fish farm to the east of the golf course. On the way from Arfadalsvík to Grindavík are many ponds and some estuaries that can hold waders, ducks, geese and gulls.

Grindavík

Grindavík is a town of 3,000 inhabitants. Due to lights and few trees, Grindavík is one of the first destinations for lost American migrants after low preassure systems coming from the west. For that reason, Icelandic bird watchers look in gardens and the shore area in and around the town. Gulls can be seen from the docks and on ponds east and west of Grindavík and one should always have one's eyes open for gull rarities, such as Ross's Gull (Rhodostethia rosea), Franklin's Gull (Larus pipixcan), and Bonaparte's Gull.

Birding trails - Vatnsleysuströnd - Reykjanesbær

Vatnsleysuströnd - Reykjanesbær

Vatnsleysuströnd is one of few vegetative places on the Reykjanes Peninsula. It is a coastal area from Vatnsleysuvík to Vogar. The peninsula has little or no running surface water so the ponds in that area attract many birds. The main road is paved and good for all types of cars but the access to the coast is mostly through private roads. Vatnsleysuvík has a fish farm that attracts many gull species and the farm Stóra-Vatnsleysa has an Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) colony, breeding Common Eiders (Somateria mollissima) and waders.

Kálfatjarnarkirkja

Traveling west towards the village of Vogar you will see a church and a golf course where you can park and walk down to the coast. Near the shore you can find a little pond where ducks and waders are often seen and on the sandy beach and rocky shore beyond the rocky boulders you can find feeding waders in spring and autumn. The landfill holds passerines like Meadow Pipits and Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) and one should always keep a lookout for vagrants in these areas. On the road to Vogar there are a few ponds seen from the road that are worth a look. The best way to look at this area is to walk the whole coast and go on top of the landfill to scan the ponds on the way.

Vogar

Vogar is as small village on the east side of Stakksfjörður. There is large pond close to the harbour with sedge and a small island. In summer, there are breeding ducks such as Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula) and Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) hiding in the sedge with feeding Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus). The harbour is a good stop for gulls and waders and the occasional wintering Harlequin Ducks. The sandy beach next to the pond is good in the migration period but the hidden pearl is the mudflat west of Vogar. Turn left when entering the village; you will drive through the village and end up on a gravel road that will lead you to a big fenced off fish farm. Go towards the gate and take another left until you are in a parking area. From there on you will follow a walking path next to the fish farm that will lead you to a big mudflat with patches of seaweed with many waders and gulls and breeding Northern Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) in the cliffs above. This is a hot-spot during migration.

Þorbjörn and Sólbrekkuskógur

There are very few trees in Reykjanes, or in Iceland for that matter, and long may it be so but the Suðurnes Forestry Association has been trying to introduce alien and native trees to the peninsula with some success. These plantations are big attraction to passerines that have lost their way migrating both in the Eastern and Western Hemisphere. The largest ones are located inland between Vogar and Grindavík. The bigger one, Þorbjörn/Selskógur, is on the north side of the hill Þorbjarnarfell, north of Grindavík. The other one is called Sólbrekkuskógur and is next to the pond Seltjörn, between Vogar and the Blue Lagoon.

Reykjanesbær

Reykjanesbær is a town divided into two districts, Njarðvík and Keflavík. Njarðvík has a salt-marsh and ponds close to the coast that attract waders, ducks, geese and gulls, especially on high tide. American Wigeon (Anas americana) is seen almost annually on the biggest pond, and many vagrants have been spotted there. The harbours in Keflavík and in Helguvík (west of Keflavík) are good places to scan for vagrants such as King Eiders (Somateria spectabilis), White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi) and Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca) in large flocks of Eiders. Fulmars and Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) nest on the cliffs north of Helguvík and you can see auks and other seabirds from the lighthouse on the edge of the cliff. In search of vagrants one should always target towns on the peninsula and look for passerines in gardens and parks.

Birdlife

On the Krýsuvíkurberg and Hafnaberg cliffs, thousands of seabirds nest each summer. The most common are guillemot, razorbill,Brünnich's guillemot, kittiwake, puffin, black guillemot, fulmar and cormorant. Krýsuvíkurberg is 50 metres high, and about 57.000 pairs of seabirds nest on these cliffs. The highest point of Hafnaberg is 43 metres, and its estimated population of seabirds is 6.000 pairs. Fourteen kilometres off the southwest of the peninsula is Eldey island, home to one of the largest gannet colonies in the world.

The gannet is the largest seabird in the north Atlantic ocean, and about 16.000 pairs nest each year on the island, which is only 0.3 km² in area, and up to 77 metres high. Often seen between the mainland
and the island are dolphins or whales blowing. The great skua and arctic skua are common in summer: scavengers snatching their food from other seabirds. By nature the skua is not able to dive for food like other seabirds. Other common birds on the coast are gulls, such as the great and lesser black-backed, glaucous and herring gulls.


The arctic tern is among the most common birds in the peninsula, mostly found in colonies on the tip of Reykjanes, east of Grindavík and between Garður and Sandgerði. Whimbrels which breed in the Suðurnes area spend the winter in Africa, and arctic terns migrate to the Antarctic. The golden plover, oystercatcher and snipe are migratory birds which are common in the area, while the purple sandpiper is one of the few Icelandic waders which does not migrate.

Among passerines, the redwing and snow bunting are common, and the starling remains in Iceland all year round. The largest passerine is the raven. The eider is by far the most common species of duck in Iceland. In the Suðurnes area the eider is economically important, as farmers harvest the valuable down from eider nests. The greylag goose nests in the lowlands, and the whooper swan is the only species of swan which breeds in Iceland.

The Zoological Viking Home

The Zoological Viking Home is in operation next door to the Vikingworld. These are some calves, lambs and goats as well as chickens and rabbits in a fun environment. All the animals have in common to be of the same kind as the domestic animals brought over the Atlantic Ocean with the first permanent settlers in Iceland over 1100 years ago.

Whales in Reykjanes

The waters surrounding the Reykjanes peninsula are home to dolphins and various species of whales in the warmer months of the year, and in winter as well. Commonly found in the waters off Garður are white beaked dolphins and minke whales, even as close as outside the harbour in Keflavík and nearby. The area is an important habitat for these marine mammals, mainly as a seasonal feeding ground, rich in plankton. These waters provide excellent conditions for such fish species such as sand eel, herring, capelin, haddock and cod to thrive. Humpback whales are also commonly seen in July and August, and occasionally seil whales , fin whales and the enormous blue whales appear at the surface.

The Reykjanes Peninsula

Towns & Villages

Visitors to Iceland who arrive via Keflavik International Airport on the Reykjanes Peninsula may be somewhat surprised by the landscape that greets their eyes as they touch down in Iceland for the very first time. A seemingly endless, green-grey moss-topped lava field blankets the peninsula for as far as the eye can see, and it is this strange and rather other-worldly sight that is your first glimpse of the land of fire and ice. 

Map Garður Sandgerði Reykjanesbær Vogar Grindavík