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Animals of Iceland – A Personal Photo Essay

As one would expect of such an isolated island situated in the North Atlantic, there is not much wildlife on Iceland. The majority of the wildlife comes from  the sea, and the bird life is prolific as well. Iceland does host a thriving farming community, and the domesticated animals are just as hardy and friendly as the Icelandic people.

Shaggy maned Icelandic ponies.

Shaggy and Wild, Iceland’s Fauna is Spectacular

Whether you are on a shorter, say 4 days in Iceland or longer trip, like we took for 8 days, you are sure to see lots of animals. Trying to capture the majesty of the scenery and the beauty of the animals that I came across was nothing less than inspiring. To think that these species have carved an existence, a home from such an unforgiving environment made me think how lucky I am to experience them.

Puffins in their cliffside nesting area.

The Wild

To see these birds and animals, and more, you have to make an effort. We were thrilled to see the puffins coming in from the sea in the late evening to their rocky nests. Watching their tiny wings flapping in what seems to be similar to that of a wound up rubber band, is comical and magical at the same time.

A flock of black headed gulls on an iceberg.

These birds were resting on an iceberg in Jökulsárlón Lagoon.  The entire group was only on one iceberg, not the others.  I wondered why.

Golden plover on guard duty.

We saw these “lookouts” all over the eastern part of Iceland. The birds would stand up there and keep an eye out for intruders or predators. They weren’t nests, just high points, and because the rocks were used all season, and probably many seasons, they were covered in greenery. The birds were primarily ground birds, but we did see them fly as well.

A swan family swims by in an Icelandic lake.

There were many swans around the island, and wee watched this family for a good 45 minutes, eating their breakfast and floating down the river.

Reindeer in Iceland

I had read that there were caribou brought by Scandinavians in the 19th century, but being the middle of summer, didn’t think we would see them. They were far away and stayed that way. Look at those antlers!

The Not-So Wild!

There’s no way to begin researching your trip to Iceland without coming across photo after photo of the beautiful ponies with their unkempt manes hanging over their brows. What I noticed driving around is that everyone in the countryside owns horses, and all the horses are curious. Most groups would meet me as I climbed out of the car to photograph them. They were ready to be patted, talked to, and seemed all too eager to model for me.

Two Icelandic ponies, a gray and a black.

Look at these bangs! These guys would fit right into a 70s rock concert!

Icelandic pig roots in a field of grass.

Pigs are not an animal you come across often, and I was more than surprised to see them in a number of paddocks rooting for tubers and getting nice and fattened up. I never saw more than two, and since it was summer I’m sure they were not going to last the winter.

Sheep grazing near reflective pond in Iceland.

Then, of course, there are the sheep! Sheep are everywhere on the island. I expected to see them in the green grass. I expected to see them on the rolling hills, but there were plenty of areas that I was unprepared to see them. Places covered in lava, with little vegetation, with sand, on beaches, everywhere I went there were sheep. Everywhere!

Now the sheep were not quite as friendly as the horses. We would pull over and they would eye us suspiciously, but unless we moved too close they were not going to be bothered to get up and move. Many had burrowed a cozy little bed, soft with long grass. Why would they give that up? Surprisingly, many of the sheep were so curious, they came right up to us. One time, I called them in a sing song “sheep, sheep, sheep” call and I was shocked to see them running for me.

Driving around Iceland, we were thrilled that along with the majesty of the landscapes, we were able to see these gorgeous animals.

Which is your favorite Icelandic animal photo?

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Animals of Iceland.

Corinne Vail

Saturday 8th of November 2014

Denise, Thanks!


Friday 7th of November 2014

Great photos and wonderful shot of the caribou. But, those horses are absolutely beautiful and LOL to "These guys would fit right into a 70s rock concert...." , Corinne :)

Corinne Vail

Saturday 8th of November 2014

Mike, You've got to love those manes, right?!

Nancie (@Ladyexpat)

Friday 7th of November 2014

Your photos are fantastic! I love the horses. However, I have to pick the caribou as my favorites. The horns are gorgeous. Thanks for linking up this week! #TPThursday

Corinne Vail

Saturday 8th of November 2014

Nancie, Thanks! I love caribou as well. I only wish I could've gotten in closer, but I wasn't about to climb that fence!


Thursday 6th of November 2014

So cute...

rhonda albom

Saturday 1st of November 2014

Puffins! I would love to see Puffins! This collection of animals in Iceland is wonderful. It was already on my bucket list, but I think you just nudged it up a few spots.

Corinne Vail

Saturday 1st of November 2014

Rhonda, It was spectacular...just keep that in mind!