Lonely Planet Writer

Spring has sprung in Iceland as the golden plover returns to the skies

The first golden plover of the year has been spotted in Iceland, meaning spring has begun. The bird was recorded in South Iceland by the local Birds Observatory on 27 March.

Golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) in summer plumage, Iceland.
Golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) in summer plumage, Iceland. Image by Patrick Dieudonne / robertharding

Golden plovers fly north to spend the summer in Iceland, and are traditionally believed to herald spring’s arrival. Many locals begin preparing for the season once the bird has been sighted. The birds are black and white, with golden spots, and feed mainly on worms.

Reykjavik is around 3°C, with the north of the country a little colder, and conditions across the country are notoriously variable, even in summer. Spring does see the days lengthen, however. By late March the sun rises at 6.48am and sets at 8.16pm. In late June the sun barely sets, while mid-winter is extremely dark.

Kirkjufell Mountain, Iceland.
Kirkjufell Mountain, Iceland. Image by ronnybas/Shutterstock

Spring in Iceland is celebrated in traditional fashion, with Easter-egg hunts and roast lamb. Summer officially begins on the first Thursday after 18 April – the deceptively early date is because the Old Norse calendar divides the year into only two seasons, summer and winter.

The golden plover also has a surprising connection to one of the world’s bestselling books. In 1951, Guinness managing director Sir Hugh Beaver was on a shooting trip when he became embroiled in an argument about whether the fastest game bird in Europe was the red grouse or golden plover. Beaver struggled to find the answer in a book and commissioned the Guinness World Records book as a result. It has since sold over 100 million copies.

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