What types of animals and wildlife can you see in Iceland?
This question is hard to answer because of the vast number of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians found here!
As you can imagine, there was no way to include every animal in the below article. So instead, I tried to focus on the most regularly seen and observed creatures.
10 COMMON ANIMALS IN Iceland:
#1. Rabbit (European)
- Oryctolagus cuniculus
- Adults grow up to 40 cm (16 in) long.
- Their coloring is often grayish-brown. However, they are highly variable. Some specimens are all black or nearly white.
- They look like domesticated rabbits, with heavy bodies, long, upright ears, and large hind feet.
Look for European Rabbits in areas with mixed grassland and woods, which helps them avoid their many predators. They’re also well-known for their extensive burrows, which can sometimes cause erosion and damage to pastureland.
The burrows of Rabbits provide much-need shelter from predators, including foxes, wolves, and wolverines. Surprisingly, much smaller wildlife in Iceland will also prey on rabbits. Stoats, in particular, jump on the rabbits’ backs and bite their necks.
Unfortunately, it’s not only predators that are a threat to European Rabbits. They’re also susceptible to parasites and diseases, including myxomatosis. This is a relatively mild virus related to smallpox, but it’s usually fatal to them.
- Anas platyrhynchos
- Males have a bright green head, thin white collar, dark reddish-brown chest, yellow bill, and black tail feathers with white tips.
- Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills.
- Both sexes have purple-blue secondary feathers on their wing, most visible when standing or flying.
My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are the most common animals in Iceland!
Mallards are extremely comfortable around people, which is why these adaptable ducks are widespread. They are found in virtually any wetland habitat, regardless of location.
Mallards readily accept artificial structures built for them by humans. If you have a nice pond or a marsh, feel free to put up a homemade nesting area to enjoy some adorable ducklings walking around your property! Make sure you put up predator guards so predators can’t get to the eggs.
When you think of a duck quacking, it is almost inevitably a female Mallard. If there is a better duck sound, we haven’t heard it! Interestingly, males do not quack like females but, instead, make a raspy call.
#3. European Robin
- Erithacus rubecula
- Their coloring is orange on the face and breast with slate-blue sides and neck. Their backs are tan, and their bellies are white.
- The beak and eyes are dark brown, while the feet and legs are light brown.
Robins are one of the most widespread animals in Iceland!
You can find them across many habitats, but they are especially common visitors to backyards and gardens. The Robin is one of the most charming and popular birds in Iceland. They have become tame and are a welcome sight in any backyard. Robins are even known to follow gardeners around! 🙂
They enjoy eating worms, but they will also eat seeds, other invertebrates and insects, fruit, and nuts. During the winter, they’re attracted to suet, especially if it contains mealworms.
You’re likely to hear European Robins singing at all hours of the day. They’re usually the first to start calling in the morning and the last to stop in the evening. Listen for a sweet, breathy song that turns up in pitch at the end.
#4. House Sparrow
- Passer domesticus
- Males are predominantly slate gray, with black stripes under the chin and from the beak to the eyes. In addition, they have brown “eyebrows” and brown, black, and white-streaked wings.
- Females are far plainer, mostly dull brown and gray.
House Sparrows are opportunistic birds that live across Iceland.
Although populations of this animal in Iceland are declining slightly, it has become invasive across much of the rest of the world, where it thrives with little competition and pushes out many native species.
In most urban and suburban areas, it’s INCREDIBLY COMMON to see House Sparrows. They owe their success to their ability to adapt and live near humans. Unlike most other birds, they love grains and are commonly seen eating bread and popcorn at amusement parks, sporting events, etc.
House Sparrows can be heard across the entire planet. Pay attention the next time you’re watching the news in another country. Listen for a simple song that includes lots of “cheep” notes.
#5. Common Blackbird
- Turdus merula
- Males are entirely black with a bright yellow ring around the eyes. The beak is bright orange.
- Females and juveniles are mottled brown with yellowish-brown beaks. However, they still have a bright yellow eye ring.
The Eurasian or Common Blackbird is one of the most recognizable birds in Iceland. Their preferred territories include gardens, wooded habitats, parks, and farmland with hedges. Look for them on lawns and fields, where they spend most of their time foraging insects and earthworms.
Like many blackbirds, this species is extremely territorial, especially during breeding. Look for squabbles and fights to break out regularly over food, nesting locations, and seemingly nothing at all!
Listen for the Eurasian Blackbird’s multi-toned warbling cry, which is easy to recognize, but harder to describe.
#6. Common Wood Pigeon
- Columba palumbus
- Slate gray overall coloring with a faint blue cast on the back.
- Adults have a white flash on the sides of the neck, which is missing in juveniles.
- The chest is rosy, and there is a black ring at the base of the tail.
This species is the largest pigeon found in Iceland! Look for Common Wood Pigeons in areas with plenty of trees, where they spend most of their time. However, they prefer to nest on flat surfaces like building ledges, rocky outcrops, or even the ground.
The Wood Pigeon is often found in large flocks in rural areas and the city. Their numbers have significantly increased, probably because they can live alongside humans.
Babies, known as squabs, are fed crop milk until they are old enough to eat seeds. This is a milk-like liquid made in the parents’ throat crops. Typically, a bird’s throat crop is used to store and digest food collected during the day. But, during the nesting season, it does double duty by producing crop milk for hatchlings!
Listen closely for the sweet, five-note refrain of the Common Wood Pigeon. Its notes create a series that sounds like “wu-huuu-wu-hu-hu.”
#7. White Wagtail
- Motacilla alba
- Adults are 16.5-19 cm (6.4-7.4 in) long.
- Their coloring is black, white, and dull gray. Their white face and black throat are the most noticeable features.
- This species has long legs, a puffed chest, and a rounded head.
White Wagtails are common across Eurasia, but incredibly, this little guy sometimes ventures all the way to western Alaska for nesting. It makes its home in abandoned fishing huts and cabins, beach debris, or empty oil drums.
The White Wagtail got its name from the way it forages along the water’s edge, wagging its tail, looking for insects. They mostly hunt on land but will pursue prey in the air occasionally. Sometimes they wade in shallows or walk atop floating masses of vegetation while on the hunt. Likely prey includes crane flies, midges, mayflies, and aquatic larvae.
Its call is an extremely short and fast pair of high-pitched chirrups.
#8. Grey Heron
- Ardea cinerea
- Adults are 84–102 cm (33–40 in) long with a 155–195 cm (61–77 in) wingspan.
- They have a distinctive blue-gray coloring on their wings and a blue tuft of feathers on their heads.
- Their necks are white, and their feet and beaks are pinkish-orange.
Grey Herons are typically seen along the edges of rivers, lakes, and wetlands.
Most of the time, these animals in Iceland will either be motionless or moving very slowly through the water, looking for their prey. But watch them closely because these herons will strike quickly and ferociously to grab something to eat when an opportunity presents itself. Common foods include fish, frogs, reptiles, small mammals, and other birds.
Grey Herons appear majestic in flight, and once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to spot them. Watch the skies for a LARGE bird that folds its neck into an “S” shape and has its legs trailing straight behind.
Believe it or not, Grey Herons mostly build their nests, made out of sticks, very high up in trees. In addition, they almost always nest in large colonies called “Heronries” that can include up to 500 different breeding pairs. And unbelievably, almost all of the breeding pairs nest in the same few trees!
When disturbed, these large birds make a loud “kraak” or “fraunk” sound, which can also be heard in flight.
#9. Black-headed Gull
- Chroicocephalus ridibundus
- Adults are 37–44 cm (14.5–17 in) long with a 94–110 cm (37–43 in) wingspan.
- They are all white with a gray wash on their wings, orange feet, and beaks.
- In summer, the plumage on their heads is black, and their beaks and feet turn red.
Black-headed Gulls are a common sight near water in Iceland. These fascinating water birds are comfortable in many climates, and some live in the far north while others prefer more temperate areas. Look for them on islands, in lakes, or on coastal shorelines.
These water birds have some unique behaviors that make them particularly interesting. For example, they like to keep their nests neat and tidy! Black-headed Gulls remove eggshells and other debris from their nests as their chicks hatch and grow. This is a way to avoid predators by keeping the nest camouflaged.
In addition to their neatness, Black-headed Gull chicks are also very good at getting a meal from their parents. These tiny chicks learn quickly to beg for food as a group because the louder they are, the more food mom or dad will bring them!
Finally, Black-headed Gulls practice Brood Parasitism, a behavior you might associate with Cuckoo Birds. However, instead of laying their nests in the nests of another species, they intrude on the nests of their kind! This happens most often with the first or second egg a female lays to give the chicks a better chance of survival.
#10. Mute Swan
- Cygnus olor
- A huge white bird with a long white neck.
- Look for the distinctive orange bill that features a black base and knob.
Mute Swans are one of the most elegant types of wildlife in Iceland.
They are also enormous and are one of the heaviest birds that can fly! And because of their beauty, they have been imported all over the world. They’re also quieter than other swan species, which is how they got their name.
However, don’t be fooled by their appearance; these swans can be aggressive, and they regularly attack kayakers and other people who get too close to their nest.
Do you want to learn about MORE animals in Iceland?
Check out these ID Guides!
Which of these dangerous animals in Iceland have you seen?
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