Five bird species you have a chance to see in Svalbard
Svalbard has a fascinating bird life and most of us get impressed by the enormous abundance. During the summer, the steep cliffs are filled with hundreds of thousands of nesting pairs - an overwhelming sight. Some birds like to stay close to the sea surface, others prefer higher altitudes. Some are very curious and if you are lucky, you can get really close to them. Here are five bird species that you might see during your visit to Svalbard.
To the untrained eye, the northern fulmar may resemble a seagull or a gull, but these are not related. The northern fulmar is a true seabird that belongs to the procellariidae family, just like the magnificent albatrosses. It is a pelagic bird that can filter salt from seawater and just like the seagull it needs to fly to land to drink fresh water. The northern fulmar is a bird that you are almost guaranteed to meet when you travel to Svalbard and often you can see it gliding just above the sea surface. It can also be seen in smaller groups, but never in large flocks. This is the bird you will get closest to while you are at sea, sometimes it flies only a few meters from the boat. The northern fulmar can live up to 40 years.
The special appearance has given the puffin several nicknames such as "clown of the sea" and "sea parrot". If you visit Svalbard during the spring and summer season, you have a great chance of seeing this charming bird that stands out for its kind look and its characteristic and colorful beak. After the breeding season, it is a little more anonymous as the colourful horn plates fall off and the beak becomes smaller and darker. The puffin is a good fisher and you can see it holding up to 30 fishes in its beak at the same time. It often flies low and fast. Large colonies of puffins return each spring to the coastal cliffs to breed, after spending the autumn and winter months out at sea.
During the summer months, the mighty bird cliff, Alkefjellet, is home to hundreds of thousands of Brünnich’s guillemots. On every cliff ledge of the steep basalt rock wall you can see nesting pairs which is a powerful experience. The sounds and smell enhance the impressions. The Brünnich’s guillemot does not build nests, but lays its eggs directly on the rock shelf. It belongs to the auk family and is a close relative of the common guillemot. The Brünnich’s guillemots is a very good diver and can dive deeper than 100 meters. With its black and white plumage and upright posture, it can even be compared to a penguin from a distance, especially if you see it sitting on an ice floe.
Millions of little auks breed annually in the Barents Sea, and on Svalbard it is by far the most numerous bird species. As the smallest bird in the alcove family, it is not much larger than a starling or bullfinch. It breeds high up on mountain slopes in huge colonies in early season May/June. The little auk flies somewhat unsteadily and, like all auks, it stays close to the sea surface. It is curious by nature, and if you sit perfectly still, it is not entirely unbelievable that it will land nearby and spy on you.
During most of the year, the king eider lives in marine environments, but during the summer months it is seen nesting on the Arctic tundra. During a trip to Svalbard, you have a good chance to spot this characteristic bird that is part of the duck family. It is often seen in fjords in the early season, before the ice has receded. The male stands out with its unmistakable bright orange beak knob on the forehead and coral red beak, while the female is very similar to the common eider but gives a slightly kinder impression with its upturned mouth corners.
Since 1999, we have taken travellers on once-in-a-lifetime trips to Svalbard. From May to September our three small expedition ships, carrying only 12 and 50 passengers, explore this magnificent Arctic archipelago. Unpredictability and flexibility are the main keywords when you travel with PolarQuest as the exact route depends on weather, ice conditions and wildlife encounters. Sometimes you might be woken up in the middle of the night if a polar bear has been spotted on the ice.