Text by Nicole Bouglouan

Sources :

Avibase (Denis Lepage)

ISLANDE EXPLORA – Un Pays de Glace et de Feu

Nomination of Surtsey for the UNESCO World Heritage List

Formation of a bird community on a new island, Surtsey, Iceland

Our Beautiful World - Birds

Surtsey Island, Iceland

Surtsey, volcanic island, emerged in 1963

Surtsey is Iceland's youngest volcanic island

The Surtsey Nature Reserve – Environment Agency of Iceland

All About Birds

Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia


Surtsey Island is located off the southern coast of Iceland, in the Vestmannaeyjar Archipelago, also named Westman Islands.

Surtsey is one of the world’s newest islands. It was formed in November 1963 in a volcanic eruption which heaved it up out of the water, 32 kilometres off the south-east coast of Iceland. The volcanic eruption began 130 metres below the sea-level around November 10, 1963, and reached the surface on November 14, 1963.   

This formation took almost four years, until June 1967. At this time, the island was 150 metres above the sea-level, covering an area of 2,65 km². However, in 2008, the area was 1,41 km², due to both strong winds and waves.
Despite the erosion caused by the pounding waves, the island core has quickly solidified as rock and it stays strong.
But this area remains under permanent scientific observation, giving a fascinating insight into how a new island develops.
The life is colonizing the island, and flora and fauna are evolving, as very few visitors, only scientists, are allowed to come to Surtsey. 
This place is now classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008.

From the summer of 1965, the vegetation began to appear, followed by insects such as flies and aphids. Later, seals use this area as a hunting ground. And finally in 1970, the first gulls settled there. Today, around 90 species of birds live on Surtsey.

Black Guillemot

Otto Plantema
Trips around the world

Northern Fulmar

Aurélien Audevard

The sea, the wind and the birds regularly carry seeds and tiny creatures, whereas debris and clumps of grass are floating, coming from other islands. 
The first plants found on Surtsey were diatoms that are small algae, single cells that can appear as filaments, chains or colonies, an organism with cell walls of transparent silica. They were found on the beach in August 1964, while the island was still erupting.
Another more terrestrial plant was Cakile arctica, named Sea rocket, a flowering plant in the family Brassicaceae. It is native from the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway and North European Russia. It was first observed growing in 1965, but it had not established itself on the island.
Concerning the avifauna, the Northern Fulmar and the Black Guillemot began to nest on Surtsey in 1970.
The gulls colonies established on the island in the summer 1986. Some pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gull were nesting on the lava in South Surtsey. The numbers increased largely in the following years, until forming a colony including three gull species, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull.
The formation of these colonies was followed by numerous new species of plants, as gulls species have a strong impact on their breeding areas. The birds carry new seeds on their feet and the guano fertilizes them.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Nicole Bouglouan
Photographic ramble

But the development of the grass attracted other birds. The Greylag Goose arrived in 2001 to feed on thick grasses. But insect-eaters also began to appear, attracted by the presence on the island of various insects, and bird species such as Snow Bunting, White Wagtail and Meadow Pipit regularly fed on insects.
During the spring 2008, the Common Raven nested here for the first time and raised three chicks, feeding in part of stolen eggs.        

Greylag Goose

Steve Garvie
RAINBIRDER Photo galleries

Snow Bunting

Tom Grey
Tom Grey's Bird Pictures & Tom Grey's Bird Pictures 2

White Wagtail

Paul Guillet
Photos d’Oiseaux 

Meadow Pipit

Nicole Bouglouan
Photographic ramble

The nests of the other bird species are confined to the sea-cliffs, but they are instable due to the wave erosion.
However, following several years confined to the sea-cliffs, the nests of the Northern Fulmar are now established inland since several years. They are often built in the cliffs of the old craters where 5-15 pairs can be found.

The island also attracts exhausted land-birds approaching Iceland during their migration. However, the lifeless habitat of Surtsey does not provide food for most migrants, except for the Birds of Prey which can kill tired migrating species, and both the scavengers and some waders which have access to dead or alive organisms washed upon the sea shores.

 The ecosystem established on Surtsey includes vascular plants (tracheophytes), fungi, various invertebrates, different microorganisms and birds. This ecosystem is self-sufficient, simple and probably instable, but it is the beginning of a more complicated wildlife to be developed in the future.

Northern Gannet

John Anderson
John Anderson Photo Galleries

Species list:

Atlantic Puffin – Fratercula arctica – Macareux moine

Baltimore Oriole - Icterus galbula - Oriole du Nord

Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica - Hirondelle rustique

Black Guillemot - Cepphus grylle - Guillemot à miroir

Black-legged Kittiwake - Rissa tridactyla - Mouette tridactyle

Common Murre - Uria aalge - Guillemot de Troïl

Common Ringed Plover - Charadrius hiaticula - Pluvier grand-gravelot

Great Black-backed Gull – Larus marinus – Goéland marin

Great Cormorant – Phalacrocorax carbo – Grand cormorant

Great Skua - Stercorarius skua - Grand labbe

Herring Gull – Larus argentatus – Goéland argenté

Manx Shearwater - Puffinus puffinus - Puffin des Anglais

Northern Fulmar – Fulmarus glacialis – Fulmar boreal

Northern Gannet - Morus bassanus - Fou de Bassan

Parasitic Jaeger or Arctic Skua - Stercorarius parasiticus - Labbe parasite

Razorbill - Alca torda - Petit Pingouin (Pingouin torda)

Snow Bunting - Plectrophenax nivalis - Bruant des neiges ou Plectrophane des neiges

Sooty Shearwater - Puffinus griseus - Puffin fuligineux

Squacco Heron - Ardeola ralloides - Crabier chevelu



Steve Garvie
RAINBIRDER Photo galleries