With their bright orange beaks and white-feathered faces, puffins are far and away Iceland’s favorite bird. Ten million of the little guys make their home here, and though they generally colonize cliffs or off-shore islands, there are opportunities to spot them even in Reykjavík. It was to this end that we hopped on a boat departing the city harbor.
Special Tours’ Puffin Express delivered on its name. Within no time, we had reached Akurey Island, a favorite breeding spot near the capital. There were puffins all around, running along the ground, swimming and fishing in the water, and preparing for takeoff. They’re adorably awkward while working up the speed to fly, but once in the air and flapping their wings up to 400 times a minute, they can be quite fast.
Considering their love of cold water, clumsiness, and black & white plumage, I initially thought them to be related to penguins. But upon seeing them close up, and especially after watching them fly, I realized they’re completely different. Puffins are in fact a subspecies of auk: a family of fishing birds which live in northern waters, and include the razorbill and guillemot.
Puffins aren’t the slightest bit endangered, so despite how cute they are, it’s difficult to work up a lot of moral outrage about the fact that they’re commonly hunted and eaten in Iceland. Puffin breast is a popular menu item, and apparently their raw hearts are an Icelandic delicacy. They’re captured with a huge net in a method called ‘sky fishing’. Which sounds kind of horrible. In fact, now that I have the mental image of some huge guy fishing a bunch of puffins out of the air with a net, then ripping out and feasting on their tiny hearts, the seed of moral outrage has begun to sprout.
There are a variety of places around the island to spot the birds, including some that don’t require a boat ride, but if you’d like to see puffins while in Reykjavík, Special Tours’ Puffin Express is one of your best options. Our guide was both amusing and knowledgeable, able to answer every question we had. It was a great day out, and an experience we can recommend.
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