Grim Outlook for Puffin and Arctic Tern Nesting Skip to content

Grim Outlook for Puffin and Arctic Tern Nesting

The outlook for puffin and Arctic tern nesting in southwest Iceland is rather grim. Lack of food due to changes in the biosphere has caused chicks to starve year after year. Nesting hasn’t even started in some seabird colonies.


A puffin colony in Iceland. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

Now Minister for the Environment Svandís Svavarsdóttir has asked landowners to limit or cancel egg collecting and bird hunting this summer due to the poor condition of seabird stocks, Morgunbladid reports.

“It was off to a bad start and I’m a little worried about the summer,” commented Erpur Snaer Hansen, a biologist in the Westman Islands. The local puffins haven’t started nesting yet, which usually happens around May 20.

“It will be exciting to see how many of them will nest. If the birds cannot feed themselves when they arrive, they simply don’t nest,” Hansen added. The Westman Islands are home to the largest puffin colony in the world.

If the puffin nesting season isn’t successful this year either, it will be the seventh failed summer in a row.

The South Iceland Nature Institute has proposed that puffin hunting be banned in the Westman Islands from this year onwards as it is no longer sustainable, or until two generations of the above average size have reached two and three years of age at which point hunting may be permitted again with limitations, reports.

Puffin is a local delicacy, traditionally served at Thjódhátíd, an outdoor festival held in the first weekend of August.

The Arctic tern nesting season in southwest Iceland has also been a failure in recent years. “It doesn’t look good at the moment. They don’t appear to be about to nest but it can change quickly,” said Freydís Vigfúsdóttir, a doctoral student of biology who has studied Arctic tern colonies on Snaefellsnes peninsula in the past three summers.

For three summers in a row the nesting there has been an almost complete failure and the situation is starting to become serious for the bird species on a global scale. Around 20-30 percent of the global Arctic tern stock nests in Iceland.

In north Iceland, reports of abandoned nests indicate that the resilient cold spell has disrupted the nesting season, whereas lack of food doesn’t seem to be a problem in that region.

Click here to read an account of the condition of seabirds on Grímsey island in the north and here to read more about the concern for seabirds in the south and west.

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