To survive in the hostile Arctic environment, there are a number of key elements that birdlife requires. This includes a consistent source of food, water, shelter and physical adaptations to protect themselves from the bitter cold. The birdlife of Greenland and Spitsbergen have special characteristics that enable them to live in this region and these can be witnessed firsthand aboard an Arctic Cruise with Aurora Expeditions. Our travel season in the Arctic is between June and September the perfect time to watch the wonderful local birdlife stretch their wings across the blue sky. Aboard your Arctic ship, you will have a great view of the birds of the Arctic complemented by accounts from our wildlife expert who can help to identify each species and provide insight into their role in the Arctic environment. Read on to find out more about Arctic birdlife and the types of species that you could spot on your Aurora adventure.
Nicknamed the “sea parrot”, Atlantic Puffin features a spectacular colourful beak often orange, yellow and grey. While the beak’s colouring fades in winter, it blooms during the breeding season (spring/winter), creating a great photo opportunity.
Atlantic Puffin spends most of their lives on the open ocean, using their wings to propel themselves underwater. Of course, living at sea means the Atlantic Puffin has had to adapt to bitter conditions. Able to drink seawater, the black and white Puffins also have waterproof feathers which keep them warm during Arctic storms.
While their name suggests that they remain in the north all year round, Arctic Terns actually clock up over 80,000 km each year, flying from the Arctic to Antarctica and back. The medium-sized birds are light grey in colour with a white rump, with short, red and black legs and a forked tail helping to navigate the rough Arctic winds. Arctic Terns nest on rocky outcrops or the edge of the Arctic pack-ice prior to flying south, so it might be possible to spot a breeding pair high on the tundra.
Arctic Terns are also excellent hunters at sea, able to gently hover over the ocean before plunging themselves deep into the water to catch fish, crustaceans and other food.
Often described as “flying penguins”, Little Auks are identified easily with their bold, black and white plumage. Standing at just 21 cm in length, with a limited wingspan of just 38cm, Little Auks are the smallest member of the auk family. During the spring/summer breeding season, this Arctic birdlife can be found on marine cliffsides, often sheltering from the cold conditions between large rocks.
The Little Auk’s flying technique is also very special. Due to their small wings, they need fast, whirring wing beats to propel themselves against the wind. Should you see Little Auks out at sea, you might be lucky enough to watch them dive underwater to catch copepods and other invertebrates.
Also known as the thick-billed murre, Brunnichs Guillemot is another member of the auk family. Slightly bigger than the Little Auk at a length of around 50 cm, this species is also found in coastal waters or ice fields outside the breeding season. The Brunnichs Guillemot features a black head, neck, back and wings, with distinctive white underparts. While the same colour as a Little Auk, its significantly longer neck and bill makes misidentification unlikely.
Known to venture as far as 100 km away from shore, Brunnichs Guillemot s can dive up to 150 m below the surface to catch fish, marine worms, mollusks and other crustaceans. Impressively, they can also stay underwater for up to four minutes without air!
This gull-like petrel is a distant cousin of both albatrosses and shearwaters, and on first spot, the similarity is remarkable. The Northern Fulmar ranges in colour from dark to pale grey and can reach a wingspan of at least 100 cm. Found around the Northern Hemisphere, including Greenland and Spitsbergen, the Northern Fulmar can be found in large flocks during breeding season, feeding and resting particularly at sea.
Scientists believe that the Northern Fulmar is one of the longest-living birds in the world. In fact, they can live up to 32 years on average, with birds of up to 50 years old found still breeding.
One of the largest gulls in the Arctic is the Glaucous Gull. Potentially reaching 170 cm in length and a massive 1.86 kg, the gull is big, powerful and a true predator of the Arctic. Glaucous Gulls are characterised by their white head and underparts, light grey back and white wingtips well camouflaged against the Arctic landscape.
Glaucous Gull are found across on cliff tops, flat rocky ground or at sea where they eat a varied diet of fish, crustaceans, other birds and seaweed.