This is the most foul bird in Iceland. It’s name is Fýll (incidentally said in the same way as Fíll = elephant) and it is a type of seagull that is very common along the Icelandic coast. To protect itself and its offspring it will vomit on you. It can spew the most awful smelling substance over quite some distance, aiming for your face.
I have often believed that if there is anything that places doubt in the evolution of the species it would be the fýll. This is because the newly hatched young fly out of the safety of their nests up in the cliffs and land somewhere down on the sands below. There they discover that they are actually too fat to take off again. They then wait all alone out on the sand for several days until they have starved themselves enough to reach a flightworthy weight. During this time most of them get eaten by the mink, arctic fox, other birds, humans or run over by cars.
The amusing side to this is the tourists that see the poor birds in the middle of the road and think that they are injured and need help. The bird does not appreciate this gesture of good will and will launch a well aimed spew of vomit as soon as the good samiratan is in range. Sometimes the bird will successfully fly away at this point since the extra weight of that vomit reserve is gone.
So if you meet a particularly foul smelling tourist in Iceland, you can ask him if he’s a bird lover.
Farmers used to and still do to some extent use this vulnerability of the Fýll to their advantage. They would simply walk around the sands with a club and a bag. You walk close enough for them to spew and empty their guts and then you walk to them and club them. Many of the old farmers feel that by clubbing them you damage too much of the meat. So their solution is breaking the skull with their teeth. I’ve tasted Fýll once and while it was ok it’s not something you absolutely must try. The eggs however are pretty good.
I’ve also had an interesting encounter with the Fýll while rock climbing. When my friend was climbing he reached a ledge with a decent sized flock of Fýlar nesting. There was a brief stare down between the two parties before the entire flock decided to give this new visitor a proper spew. We subsequently had to bail from the climb and we made my friend walk beside the car down to the shore to wash before allowing him to enter the car.
Fýll (Northern Fulmar, Fulmaris glacialis)