Photographing a very special puffin

On the island of Grímsey – north Iceland – lives a group of extraordinary birds.

They are amongst the most beautiful yet clown-looking birds on earth.

They have fascinated us all and have turned into an icon of Iceland´s tourism industry.

They are puffins, and their colorful beaks and sometimes clumsy comical behavior make them the favorite subject of many photographers.

Not all puffins are special. A beautiful puffin rests in the rain on the cliffs in Grimsey.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of puffins breed on the cliffs in Grímsey.

Grímsey is the most northerly inhabited island in Iceland. There are few places where the contrast between summer and winter is so stark.

Over the winter months, cold winds from the Atlantic ocean howl over the island, and as the sun rises higher in the sky, the island comes to life and is soon teeming with birds.

After seven months of separation, the puffins gather again on the cliffs reuniting with their partner.

Puffins spend the winter months at sea, but towards the end of April, they begin to prepare for nesting.

Puffins can hold many small fishes in their beaks simultaneously. They do this by sorting them crosswise, holding on to them with horny, backward-pointing papillae on their upper palette, and by using their fleshy tongues.

For the first two years of their life, they stay out at sea without ever going to land. At about four years old, they begin searching for a partner, but on average, they start laying eggs between five to six years of age.

The colorful beak of the puffin is fully developed at six years of age.

Until six years of age, the number of lines in the beak can indicate how old it is.

On average, puffins live for up to 25 years, but the oldest ringed Icelandic puffin was at least 38 years old when recaptured, and there are indications that they can reach well into their forties.

The colorful beak of the puffin looks different in winter. The face becomes almost black, and the bill plates fall off.

Seeing a black puffin, a puffin in winter plumage – in the summertime is a rarity. Only a few of them have been photographed in Iceland.

To our surprise, a black puffin has been seen two years in a row in Grímsey.

It is probably the same bird since it has been seen at the same burrow.

After years of photographing puffins in Grímsey, this is the first puffin in winter plumage we happen to photograph.

Seeing it for the first time, it was quite shy, and we did not manage to get close to get proper photos.

One year later, we saw it again – at exactly the same location.

This time it gave us a chance to get closer.

After some research, it seems these special puffins are well known to biologists and birdwatchers.

The Jens Kjeld-Jensen has dissected eighteen such birds killed by bird-fowlers in the Faroes. They all were old females with undeveloped ovaries, suggesting some hormonal imbalance.

Our puffin seems to have a black face and a winter bill. Rarely a bird at the colony still has a winter bill.

This beautiful puffin seems to be a very special puffin.

It will be interesting to see if our special puffin will be in Grímsey again next year.

Migrating birds start to leave the island of Grímsey in August. The puffins leave almost all at once in a single night, usually around August 10th.

The puffin is, in a way, an icon for the tourism industry in Iceland. This beautiful bird is an endless source of quality time for birdwatchers and us photographers.

Something is calming and relaxing about watching puffins.

Puffins in Grimsey in Iceland
It is not all about the puffins. Sometimes having an excuse to be out there photographing wildlife is what it is all about.

Sometimes we get the question: When have you taken enough puffin photos?

Possibly, the puffins prove what some of you might suspect. This is not so much about the pictures.

The camera is just an excuse to spend time in nature. Spend quality time with amazing wildlife – like the puffins.

If you plan to go to Grímsey to photograph puffins, make sure you check out our book: Grímsey – The Arctic Wildlife Wonder.

Our Books About Iceland

Bird Photography in Iceland - Our 40 Favorite Locations

Bird Photography In Iceland—Our 40 Favorite Locations


Bird Photography In Iceland—Our 40 Favorite Locations, is written for those planning to photograph birds in Iceland. We share our secrets and aim to maintain a straightforward, honest, no-nonsense approach, free from tourism companies’ hidden marketing. We recommend these locations to our friends who are into bird photography.

The e-book can be found here…

PHOTOGRAPHING ICELAND – A Photo Guide to 100 locations

It is a must-have if you plan to visit Iceland. It is an excellent guide to Iceland and the book we wish we had read years ago when we started traveling in our country for landscape photography. The book is the result of a vast undertaking that took more than a year. It is available in all major bookstores in Iceland and our online store. It is now also available as an e-book.

The e-book version can be found here…

The print version is here…

The printed version is 21×14,5 cm and 352 pages.

ICELAND: Wild At Heart

Our beautiful bestseller. Available in all bookstores in Iceland and our online store.

Hardcover large format: 26,5 x 22,5 x 2cm and 160 pages.

GRIMSEY – The Arctic Wildlife Wonder

This is a must-have if you plan to visit Grimsey. It is only available in our online store and the Gallery in Grimsey.

Hardcover: 24,5 x 17,5 cm and 120 pages / 7000 words

It is possible to order our books from our online store, which ships worldwide:

Notice that the shipping cost is the same if you order two books.