Animals of Iceland

The animals you’ll encounter in Iceland range from the everyday elegant feline to gorgeous, liquid-eyed seals. In this post, I’ll be writing about the animals I saw in Iceland, including native, migratory and introduced species. Nothing excited me like seeing these animals, and so I hope you will enjoy the photos I am about to share. If you wish to see the animals of Iceland, stay sharp and observant and visit in summertime if possible; this is the best time for wildlife watching. Migratory animals like birds often settle in Iceland during this period. Without any further ado, I present animals of Iceland!

1. Seals

Seeing these gorgeous and playful creatures was one of the highlights of my trip. I was fortunate enough to see seals on three occasions in Iceland – once in the Westfjords, twice in Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon of southeast Iceland and for an extended period of time in Reykjavik Family Park and Zoo.

2. Sheep

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If you are in Iceland, you will probably see sheep. Actually, you are extremely likely to see sheep. In summer, sheep are released by farmers to graze on the hills and slopes. In winter, they are taken in to shelter. Icelandic sheep provide the wool which is used to make the well-known traditional jumpers called lopapeysas. The sheep have also caused some environmental problems, most notably soil erosion.

3. Arctic Foxes

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Arctic foxes are omnivores, surviving on fish, meat and whatever else they can forage. Hardy mammals native to the Northern Hemisphere, these creatures can be spotted near bodies of water, streaking before your car as you are casually driving along, or in the Reykjavik Family Park and Zoo. For more information on the history and biology of this animal, visit the Arctic Fox Centre in Súðavík, which is located in the Westfjords of Iceland.

4. Puffins

First of all, I must confirm that no, all those black dots were not the result of a filthy camera lens. Each and every one of them was a puffin. I was beside myself with excitement about seeing this bumbling, priesty-looking bird from the very offset of my trip to Iceland. Trekking along the shores and paths of Vik in southeast Iceland, I was rewarded with my first view of them. The understanding that I was standing beneath a whole flock of puffins traveling back and forth from the ocean to their nests in the cliffs, floored me. I found that I could easily identify the puffins simply from the shorter length of their wingspan and the way that they flapped their wings so much harder and faster than other more elegant seabirds.

5. Arctic Tern

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The Arctic Tern migrates to Iceland during the breeding season, and if you think that your parents are protective, wait until you encounter these birds! As soon as we stepped out of the car, the arctic terns began their cries of protest and as one, rose into the air, ready to swoop. We quickly dived back into the car and decided to watch them from safety. The birds calmed and began to preen themselves. Even when they are viciously trying to attack you, a person cannot fail to notice that they truly are such a beautiful bird.

6. Seagulls

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It was surprising and even comforting to see animals I knew in such a different and other-worldly setting. I took this image during a challenging climb up a ‘hill’ in Hnífsdalur .

7. Mink

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Mink are a carnivorous mammal introduced and bred in Iceland during the early twentieth century for use of their fur in clothing. Of course some of the animals escaped and this lead to the existence of the species in the wild. This image was captured in Reykjavik Family Park and Zoo. The minks frequently dive into the water to swim and like otters, their movements are smooth and graceful. After clambering out, the mink would dry themselves on the moss of the rocks pictured above. I was very surprised when I was informed that they can wreak havoc on farmers’ livestock. Apparently this little animal is capable of taking down a lamb.

8. Ducks and Swans

Common yet quaint, these animals can be found throughout Iceland. Though it was an unfortunately cloudy day when I visited Tjörnin Lake in Reykjavik, it was nonetheless soothing to relax and watch the ducks and swans as they paddled.

9. Cats

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Cats are very popular, particularly in Reykjavik and in towns. This has led to the creation of cool, hipster T-shirts like the last one I bought before leaving the country which read ‘Cats rule the town’. This curious cat was attracted to the smell of hotdogs being cooked after a long walk in Hnífsdalur.

10. Reindeer

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Reindeer can be found in eastern Iceland having been introduced to the country in the eighteenth century. An Icelandic friend told a tale over dinner about a reindeer which walked in front of her car while she was driving home one night. She stopped driving, surprised to find this large mammal before her vehicle. There are currently several thousand reindeer in Iceland.

11. Horses

If you go to Iceland, do not simply see these amazing creatures (sidenote, you are highly likely to see them in paddocks and so forth across the country) be sure to go on a riding trip! Horse-riding was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my trip as Icelandic horses are like no other. It is common knowledge in Iceland that if an Icelandic horse leaves the country, it will never be able to return. Other horses are not permitted into Iceland and this has ensured the continuing uniqueness of the Icelandic horse. Differences resulting from this isolation include a smaller size and an extra gait. Whilst other horses are capable of walking, trotting, cantering and galloping, Icelandic horses are also able to ‘pace’. Trotting involves two diagonal legs moving together, but this gait involves two legs moving on the same side. During my horse-riding experience, we went through various gaits, crossed rivers, saw waterfalls and more. It was an experience like no other, and I highly recommend it.

For those of you who have visited Iceland or know something of its fauna, I am sure you must be acknowledging an omission from this article. Unfortunately, I did not get to see a whale during my stay in Iceland, but I am sure that some day in the future I shall return, and when that day comes (provided that it’s during summer) I will ensure that I book a whale watching experience. Have you been whale watching? How did you find the experience?   I hope you have all enjoyed this article, and thank you for stopping by my blog!

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15 comments

  1. We were lucky enough to have a pod of Orcas entertain us in the ocean below while we took breakfast at Hellnar, while up in Isfjordur we took a Rib Safari and say Humpbacks. Well worthwhile. 🍀

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    1. That sounds incredible. I haven’t even seen a whale (aside from on television and so forth). I purchased whale watching tickets for Sydney, but I have only a week before they expire and I have been snowed under by study since returning. Hopefully I’ll manage to get a day off!

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      1. Oh yes, go – believe it or not we did this in 2008 on a sailing boat out of Sydney (preferable to the big diesel burners) and saw a good many humpbacks breaching. If it is any consolation I am studying too right now as I have an exam on 12th August. MM 🍀

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      2. Hopefully I’ll manage to find the time. I have two tickets, and it’s challenging to find a day that works for both myself and my boyfriend. But hopefully it will work out. If it does, the pictures will come up on my blog eventually!

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