In 1847, the common eider (Somateria mollissima) became the first bird in Iceland to be declared a protected species. The first bird protection laws in Iceland were passed in 1882. Under this legislation, passerines and the Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) were declared fully protected species and hunting seasons were established for most other species. Initially, birds were viewed mainly in terms of their economic value as a local resource. Conservation perspectives gradually gained ground over the next century. The number of protected wild bird species in Iceland grew substantially with new bird protection legislation in 1914 and 1954, while the numbers of hunted and non-protected species fell. Most birds of prey and piscivores were not protected until after the middle of the twentieth century. A few species preying on eggs and chicks still do not enjoy protection. The foundation of current legislation on wild animals in Iceland (Act No. 61/1994, in Icelandic) is the Bern Convention on the conservation of wildlife and natural habitats. Hunting of 29 bird species is permitted in Iceland, and the chicks and/or eggs of an additional five species may be collected. The common eider is the most economically important bird. Landowners are permitted to collect eiderdown from common eider nests, amounting to around 3,000 kg of down annually.
The Icelandic Institute for Natural History compiles Red Lists for the biota of Iceland, based on the guidelines of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Red List for Birds was last published in 2018. An older version of the Red List was published in 2000.