Iceland is an island country located between Greenland and Norway. It is surrounded by the northern Atlantic Ocean and Norwegian Sea. Dozens of fjords can be found off the coastline. The majority of the people in Iceland live in the capital, Reykjavik, which is on the southwest coast. There are several national parks in the country that are home to a variety of flora and fauna, despite the cooler climate. There are more than 300 bird species that have been identified in Iceland but there is only one national bird. Read on to find out all about the national bird of Iceland!
What is the National Bird of Iceland?
The national bird of Iceland is the gyrfalcon. The gyrfalcon (pronounced jur-fal-kn) is a beautiful gray/white/brown falcon with a mix of varied feathers. Their coloration ranges from mostly white speckled with gray to almost all black with speckling. They are the largest of the falcon species and males can be 20 to 24 inches long and weigh almost three pounds. Their heads look similar to eagles with a hooked beak and large regal eyes.
Where do Gyrfalcons Live?
Gyrfalcons live in the Arctic tundra and along the coast. They can be found in regions of North America, Asia, Europe, and in Greenland and Iceland. Ones that are found further north may migrate south for the winter, but others are resident all year. They can live in mountainous areas or along cliffs and rivers. These falcons don’t build typical nests but may use the nest of other birds like golden eagles. They will nest on cliff ledges in protected areas and sometimes rest in conifer trees. Gyrfalcons can either be found by themselves or paired up. Once they find a mate they usually mate for life.
Why is the Gyrfalcon the National Bird of Iceland?
The gyrfalcon has long been an honored bird and it was once reserved for only King’s to use in falconry. In medieval times the gyrfalcon was a valued commodity to trade in Iceland. Vikings valued the snowy-white gyrfalcons because they could be trained as hunting birds and were worth a lot when trading. Owning a gyrfalcon was the ultimate status symbol of the time.
Is the National Bird of Iceland on the Flag?
No. The flag of Iceland has a red and white Nordic cross on a blue background. It was made the official national flag on June 17, 1944. The colors of the flag represent:
- Red: the fire of the volcanoes
- White: ice and snow
- Blue: mountains of the island
Is the National Bird on the Coat of Arms?
The gyrfalcon was featured on the Coat of Arms from 1903 to 1919. A declaration of the King of Denmark in 1903 stated that “a white Icelandic gyrfalcon on a blue field” should be the new Coat of Arms. The current Coat of Arms of Iceland features a square version of the flag in the center with the four protectors of Iceland around it. These are represented by a bull, eagle or griffin, dragon and rock-giant depicted as a bearded man with a staff.
Is the Gyrfalcon Featured on the Money of Iceland?
No. The gyrfalcon is not featured on the money but another bird, the Eurasian golden plover is. Being first minted on October 24, 2013, the 10,000 krona banknote has the plover, an outline of the mountain Skjaldbreiður, a scallop shell and two famous poems.
Are Gyrfalcons Endangered Animals?
Gyrfalcons (Falco rusticolus) are not considered endangered animals. According to the latest evaluation by the IUCN in August of 2021 the gyrfalcons are listed as an animal of “Least Concern”. They have healthy populations throughout their range however the threats that are listed are the falconry industry which collects eggs and young birds. Gyrfalcons are also being illegally hunted in some countries.
Are there any Endangered Animals that Live in Iceland?
Hooded seals are considered “vulnerable” by the IUCN and they can be found off the coast of Iceland. These seals are prey of polar bears and killer whales. They are threatened by ending up as by-catch by fishing ships and climate change is a factor due to them relying on the ice pack to have their pups and to rest.
The Eskimo curlew is a skinny-legged shorebird that hasn’t been seen since 1963 but is yet to be declared extinct. Slender-billed curlews haven’t been seen since 1995, but other curlew species are doing just fine and have healthy populations. Eurasian curlews can be found in Iceland and are not endangered.
Atlantic puffins are globally considered “vulnerable” but in Europe they are “endangered”. Climate change has been a factor that is affecting the availability of fish and sand eel which they depend on for food. Atlantic puffins are popular birds in the country and the best chance to see them at the Látrabjarg cliffs.
What other Animals Live in Iceland?
Other animals that live in Iceland are reindeer! Reindeer were not native animals to the island country but were brought over in the 1700’s after disease wiped out 60% of the sheep on the island. They have been an iconic animal of Iceland since.
Harbor seals and gray seals can be found on the shores of Iceland where they come to breed during the mating season. Harbor seals are usually found on the northwestern coast of Iceland.
The arctic fox is one of the land mammals in Iceland. It is sometimes called the snow fox due to its thick white fur. They can withstand some of the harshest weather with their thick fur coats.
While there are not any reptiles or amphibians in Iceland there are a few insects that survive. Midge, black flies, moths and butterflies can all be found seasonally in Iceland.
Where Can You See Gyrfalcons?
If you want to see a gyrfalcon in Iceland the northeastern area of the country seems to be the most populated. You might see one, or a pair, at Lake Myvatn as this area is abundant with food for the falcons. In general they live in high cliffs and avoid humans so it may be difficult to find them in the wild. But be camera-ready in case you have the good fortune of seeing the national bird in person!
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