Poor Summer in Iceland for the Arctic Tern Skip to content

Poor Summer in Iceland for the Arctic Tern

About three weeks ago most of the Arctic terns that breed in Iceland during the summer commenced their long journey to their winter habitats in the Antarctica, after an extremely poor nesting season. But on Grímsey island off north Iceland, Arctic tern couples are still feeding their young.


An Arctic tern. Photo by Geir Ólafsson.

Freydís Vigfúsdóttir, a PhD student in animal ecology, told Morgunbladid that the Grímsey chicks will hardly survive; it is doubtful whether they will manage to gather enough energy for the flight. The Arctic tern flies the longest of all migratory birds; up to 70,000 kilometers per year.

Vigfúsdóttir has studied Arctic tern nesting grounds on Snaefellsnes peninsula in the west since 2008 where this year it began a month later than in 2008-2010, or after mid-June, and food was lacking.

Nests were few and far between and there were fewer eggs than usual. The majority of the chicks that hatched died from starvation and only a select few learned to fly. Ninety percent of the chicks in the large Arctic tern colonies on Snaefellsnes were killed this year.

Ornithologist Aevar Petersen at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History said the Arctic tern stock in Iceland is very strong in spite of setbacks with 1,500 nesting grounds all around the country. Nesting has often failed in the past due to poor weather or lack of food.

The birds’ average age is ten to 15 years, while the oldest Arctic terns can grow to over 30 years old. Therefore, the stock is hardly in danger, he concluded.

Click here to read more about the condition of Icelandic seabirds.


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