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5 Birds You Might See on Your Greenland Cruise

by Daniel Fox Blog

A Greenland cruise gives birdwatchers the chance to add some beautiful entries into their collection books. Greenland is host to over 230 different species of bird throughout the year, all of them flitting around the spectacular landscape.
Antarctic Peninsula

Regions: Arctic

Destinations: Greenland

Highlights: Bird Watching

5 Birds You Might See on Your Greenland Cruise

A Greenland cruise gives birdwatchers the chance to add some beautiful entries into their collection books. Greenland is host to over 230 different species of bird throughout the year, all of them flitting around the spectacular landscape.

The island plays home to about 60 permanent bird species, meaning that the vast majority of winged occupants are part-timers, migrating in and out of the area at different times of the year. Let’s take a look at some of the most eye-catching examples of winged wildlife to be found on and around the island.

The Black Guillemot – Some Are Blacker Than Others

Want to see Black Guillemots? Then you’ve come to the right place. Black Guillemots are part of the Auk family, and Auks claim the highest population of all the breeding birds on the island. 

Black Guillemot © Erwin Vermeulen-Oceanwide Expeditions


You’ll be able to identify the Black Guillemots by their black bodies and bills with white patches on their wings and red feet.

To learn about how you can use their colouring to figure out where in the North they’re from and other bits of detailed information take a look at our Black Guillemot page here.

Fulmar – Their Name Isn’t Nearly as Charming as it Sounds

Sea-gull-like in configuration, the Fulmars are pelagic (they live their entire lives out at sea). Your best bet for a Greenland cruise that takes in the Fulmars (which are part of the petrel family) is one which visits Disko Bay and further north.

Fulmar © Josh Harrison-Oceanwide Expeditions


There’s a good chance you’ll pick up some of the Fulmar flocks as sailing companions, they’re well-known for following ships in the hopes of picking up some tasty offal left in their wakes.

To learn more their powerful sense of smell, characteristics, and why their name may sound fairly regal and charming but is actually a bit of an insult check out the Fulmar page here

Great Northern Diver – Possibly the Oldest Type of Bird in Existence

Great Northern Divers, also known as “Loons” (made famous by the Canadian one-dollar coin, the “Loonie”) are identifiable by their black heads and black-and-white patterned bodies, joined together with a graceful curving neck.

Great Northern Diver © P199 [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons


They gain their name from being one of the few bird species that have some solid bones (as opposed to all hollow bones) allowing them to plummet into deeper dives. The trade-off is that it takes them a while to build up enough steam to take off into flight, requiring a sort of run-way approach to launching themselves skyward.

You can find out more about why Great Northern Divers are considered to be the oldest type of bird still in existence and other loonie facts here.

Ptarmigan – The Year of the Ptarmigan

The Ptarmigan presents a challenge for people going on a Greenland cruise for a bird-watching trip. It’s not that they’re rare; in fact they breed all over Greenland on just about any terrain. But Ptarmigans have one great big advantage over bird-watchers – they’re masters of camouflage.

Ptarmigan © Erwin Vermeulen-Oceanwide Expeditions


Ptarmigans’ colouring shifts with the seasons – they’re brown with dark stripes in the summer months, making them well-suited for blending in with grasses and rocks. Come winter, their plumage changes to a complete white, making them virtually indistinguishable from snow.

But don’t give up hope. The Ptarmigans are good breeders, and if your Greenland cruise hits a so-called “Ptarmigan year” (a year when the birds kick their breeding into high gear) you’ll have a great chance of adding the little fellows to your bird book.

To find out where in the world the Ptarmigan has been honoured and other interesting facts check out The Ptarmigan page.

Red-throated Divers – Beautiful Maters

Also known as Red-throated Loons, these divers are the most widely-distributed of all the diver family. In appearance they have a lovely combination of a creamy brown head with their namesake red throats which shows up during mating season. During the winter the throat is a more subdued grey.

Red-throated Diver © Ómar Runólfsson [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


These divers’ Latin scientific name Gavia stellata comes from the Latin word for “starry” or “set with stars” which refers to the dappling of white “stars” on their brown or black back. Unfortunately the word “loon” isn’t quite so flattering – it’s believed to come from either the Old Dutch word loen, the Swedish lom, or the Old Norse/Icelandic lómr which all mean “clumsy” or “lame”, probably referring to the birds’ less-than-graceful movements while on land.

What Bird Watching Tour Should I Take?

Although many birds can be seen on all of our Polar voyages some voyages and destinations have more birds to offer than others. For the keen birders and bird enthusiasts special itineraries or birding groups are sometimes arranged to offer an unique bird-watching experience.

If you want an exhaustive list of all of the birds you can possibly see on a Greenland cruise check out the world bird database.

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