The falcon population in Iceland has never been smaller, at least not since research into it began in 1981. Bird flu is the likely cause, experts at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History told RÚV.
The gyrfalcon is the largest of the falcon species and its Icelandic population is genetically unique compared to other populations in countries across Arctic coasts and tundra. Its image was featured on the crest of the Icelandic coat of arms until 1919 and Iceland’s highest honour, the medal of The Order of the Falcon, is named after it and bestowed upon citizens and foreigners by the president of Iceland.
Only one case of bird flu discovered
For over 40 years, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History has monitored falcons in an area of over 5,000 square kilometres in the northeast of Iceland. Since research began, the population has never been smaller and has dwindled significantly in the last three years. In only 38 of 88 known nests did experts discover nestlings. Never before have there been as many empty nests in the northeast area. Fluctuations in population size are not unusual, however, and are linked to the population of ptarmigan in Iceland, the gyrfalcon’s main prey.
Experts still say this drop is worrying. The likeliest explanation is that more birds succumbed to bird flu than originally estimated. Only one case of bird flu in falcons was discovered in Iceland in 2022, but many more falcons have been found dead with bird flu as the suspected cause.