There are excellent chances to see many kinds of birds in Greenland, especially if you have good binoculars at hand. Over 230 species of birds have been observed, and of these, about 60 breeds in Greenland and 20 who are regular migrants. The other species are roaming guests and seen less often.
On land, you can often see small Passeriformes such as snow buntings, finches, Lapland buntings and northern wheatears. The omnipresent raven is seen frequently both in summer and winter. On a hike in the mountains, you may also be lucky to encounter the rock ptarmigan, which is Greenland’s only gallinaceous bird and favourite hunting prey.
When it comes to birds of prey, it is possible to see white-tailed eagles and the agile, fast-hunting peregrine falcon and gyrfalcon. The birds of prey typically have their nests high up on a steep mountainside, and great care must be taken not to get too close and disturb them. The snowy owl is an iconic bird for Greenland, but it only lives in northern and north-eastern Greenland.
On the sea and along the coasts, you can see, amongst others, northern fulmar, eiders, thick-billed murres, Arctic terns, Arctic skuas and 10-12 species of gull. In wetlands across the country, you can encounter up to 15 different waders such as large ringed plovers, purple sandpipers and red-necked phalaropes.
Plectrophenax nivalis (LAT)
The snow bunting (15-18 cm) is a common and widespread breeding bird throughout Greenland. The male is chalk white with black on its wings, back and middle tail feathers. The female is more mottled with grey-brown splashes in the white.
The snow bunting breeds in rocky areas, mountain fields and also close to settlements in May-July. The female builds a nest of grass and hatches the eggs while the male helps feed the chicks. Larvae, small insects and seeds are on the menu. Most birds migrate to North America or Russia in the autumn and return to Greenland in March-April, where, with their beautiful, chirping song, they are a welcome spring messenger.
Oenanthe Oenanthe (LAT)
The northern wheatear (14-17 cm) is one of the most common breeding birds in Greenland. The male is easily recognisable by the silver-grey top of the head and back, and a black eye line with white eyebrows. The female is more matt in colour without a black eye line. Both sexes have a white rump and white tail with a black reverse T that is clearly seen in flight.
The northern wheatear lives in rocky terrain, mountain shrub heath and mountain fields. Its food consists of insects and little berries, and in the autumn (Aug-Oct) it migrates to West Africa. It is an impressive journey of over 1000 km that the little bird can travel in less than 2 days. It arrives in Greenland again in April-May.
Haliaeetus albicilla (LAT)
Among the most striking species is the white-tailed eagle – or nattoralik, as it is called in Greenlandic. The white-tailed eagle is Greenland’s largest breeding bird. It feeds mostly on fish, such as cod and Arctic char, but also carrion and seabirds such as eider. The Greenland white-tailed eagle is slightly larger than its fellow species elsewhere in the world. It is found primarily along the south-west coast down to Cape Farewell. The white-tailed eagle is protected in Greenland.
Atlantic Puffin (Sea Parrot)
Fratercula arctica (LAT)
The Atlantic puffin or sea parrot, as it is also called, is a smaller bird (28-32 cm) from the Alcidae family with a colourful, triangular red, yellow and grey-blue beak. It has a large head with light grey cheeks, a black upper side and neck, white underside and orange legs. In winter, the cheeks are darker and the beak colours are less pronounced.
The adult Atlantic puffins breed in colonies on deserted islands off the coast or on the sides of steep cliffs. They often form pairs with the same mate year after year. The female lays one egg in May-June in a cliff crevice or nest that is dug in the turf. The parents pair share the work, and the egg hatches after about 40 days, after which the chick is fed with small fish such as capelin, sand eels and crustaceans. The adults can hold many fish in their beak, so saving many flights to the nest.
The Atlantic puffin moves quickly both under and above the water. It flies with short and fast whirling wings up to 80 km/h.
The Atlantic puffin population in Greenland declined sharply in the early 1900s, but from 1960 when egg collecting was banned, it began to increase. Today, the Atlantic puffin is found in about six smaller sub-populations along the west coast, and there is a total of about 3000 adult birds. Outside the breeding season, Atlantic puffins live far out sea, and the West Greenland population is presumed to remain at sea off Newfoundland.
Fulmarus glacialis (LAT)
The northern fulmar – qaqulluk – is a compact little hoverer, often seen with rigid wings hovering very close to the water, even in waves. It is similar to the gull but actually belongs to the Procellariiformes family. The northern fulmar is the bird most commonly seen in Greenland waters, especially at Disco Bay and further north.
Cepphus grylle (LAT)
This Alcidae is the most widespread breeding bird in Greenland, and it is often seen in flight close to the water or at some of the country’s large bird colonies. The thick-billed murre (appa) is another important Alcidae whose breast is a popular delicacy on the menu of many restaurants.
Somateria mollissima (LAT)
The eider, or aavooq, is the most important breeding bird in Greenland. It is particularly seen on coasts all over Greenland and incubates on small islands and rocks. As a young bird, it resembles the king eider (miteq siorakitsoq), which is also an Anseriformes, which is most prevalent in Northeast Greenland.
Lagopus mutus (LAT)
The rock ptarmigan – aqisseq – breeds all over Greenland and it is seen in virtually all types of terrain. It is a popular eating bird, and although the populations vary slightly from year to year, the rock ptarmigan is estimated to be in large numbers in Greenland. Ptarmigans change colour according to the season and are white in winter and greyish in summer.