The Oystercatcher Returns

icelandic oystercatcher

Just as the plover heralds spring for Iceland as a whole, the humble and distinct oystercatcher does so for South Iceland; at least according to South Iceland news service Sunnlenska, who report that the oystercatcher has been spotted.

The bird in question was seen in Sandvík, located on the western edge of the Reykjanes peninsula. Birdwatchers reportedly await the oystercatcher’s arrival at this area with great anticipation, and the first spotting of the bird to the location has been recorded since 2007.

The oystercatcher usually returns to this area on or around April 8th, so it is a bit late this year. This may be to make up for arriving considerably earlier last year, on April 3rd.

The specific species found in Iceland, the Eurasian oystercatcher, spends its winters along the coasts of Africa and southern Asia. Come spring, these birds will fly north, breeding and nesting in Iceland. Unlike the arctic tern, they are not aggressive towards people during this time, and can be safely observed up close, but one should avoid approaching their nesting areas and stressing them out.

Bohemian Waxwing Returns to East Iceland At Last

After an absence of at least a decade, the Bohemian waxwing has again been spotted in East Iceland, East Iceland news service Austurfrétt reports.

The news comes from data collected from the annual bird count. As reported, BirdLife Iceland (Fuglavernd) encourages Icelanders each year to go outside and mark how many and of which types of birds they spot in their own backyards, or in public parks.

The last time a Bohemian waxwing was seen in East Iceland was during the 2013 bird count, and even then, only eight were spotted. This year, 35 were spotted all over the country, in addition to 13 in the northeast.

Bohemian waxwings are northern birds, most commonly seen across Canada, Russia and Scandinavia. In the winter, they can get very bold in their search for food and enter human settlements. Austurfrétt advises that “there are few things Bohemian waxwings like better than apples”, for those who want to leave food out for these birds.

This article has been changed to reflect that these birds have returned to East Iceland in particular; not Iceland as a whole.

Icelanders Encouraged To Count Birds For An Hour Today


BirdLife Iceland (Fuglavernd) is asking the general public to participate in the Annual Bird Count, which runs from January 26th to 29th.

Iceland is home to numerous bird species, and keeping track of them all can be a daunting task. Fortunately, the part the general public plays is fairly straightforward. One need only observe their yard for an hour, and count how many birds of which species they see. Those who do not have a yard are encouraged to visit a public park for the count instead.

For those unfamiliar with Iceland’s different bird species, BirdLife Iceland has a helpful print-out (.pdf) that can be used for reference. Once the count is completed, one need only visit this Google form to submit the results.

BirdLife Iceland emphasises that one should only count birds that they see actually land in their yard, or in their area of a public park. Birds who are in flight are not to be counted, in order to avoid birds being counted twice.

In Pursuit of Ptarmigan

ptarmigan hunt iceland

It’s 6:00 AM and the obsidian darkness lingers outside my windshield. I arrive in the Kársnes neighbourhood of Kópavogur, park my car, and hop into Kristján Andri Einarsson’s black Jimny. The hunter greets me with a boyish smirk, ready for today’s adventure. He is wearing a camouflage cap on his greying auburn hair. Until this […]

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Expert Proposes Ban on Hunting Puffins

puffins iceland

The South Iceland Nature Research Centre proposes a full ban on puffing hunting in Iceland in a new report. Iceland’s puffin population has been below sustainable limits for a long time and its outlook is poor. The Centre’s Director and a Doctor of Biology Erpur Snær Hansen told RÚV that changing hunting regulations would take political will.

Around 20% of the global population of puffins nest in Iceland’s Westman Islands, with other, smaller colonies across the country. The average puffin population in Iceland has shrunk by 70% in the last thirty years. The change is attributed to a scarcity of food for the birds caused by rising sea temperatures. Hunting, of course, causes the birds’ numbers to decline even further.

Population set to keep decreasing, even if hunting is banned

Erpur says The total puffin population in Iceland numbers around 3 million nesting pairs. If puffing hunting is banned, that population is expected to decrease by over 10% over the next decade. If hunting continues to be permitted, however, the population is expected to decrease by 30% or even as much as 50% within that same period.

“This is not sustainable hunting, and the Wildlife Act clearly states that it should be,” Erpur explains. He adds that the current regulations around puffing hunting mean that not all puffins hunted are reported, so the impact on the population could be greater than projected.

Political will needed to ban puffing hunting

Erpur goes on to explain that, unlike ptarmigan or reindeer hunting, for which quotas can be set and changed yearly by inserting a provision into the regulation, puffing hunting is subject to a different set of laws. In order to ban puffing hunting, the Minister of the Environment would need to change that law. “Maybe it can just be said that the political will to do something about it was not strong enough, or that the pressure from interested parties was therefore greater,” Erpur mused.

Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir received criticism for imposing a temporary ban on whale hunting this year, a decision that also caused tension within the governing coalition.

Rare Bird Flu Detected in Eagle and Eider Duck

White-tailed Eagle Haförn Hafernir

A white-tailed eagle and an eider duck found dead in Iceland in September both tested positive for a severe strain of bird flu that has never been detected in Iceland before. The risk of infection for poultry and other other birds in captivity is low, according to the Food and Veterinary Authority.

Samples taken from a white-tailed eagle found dead on a skerry near Barðaströnd in the Westfjords in mid-September tested positive for a severe bird flu virus of the strain HPAI H4N5. An eider duck that was found dead in Ólafsfjörður, West Iceland recently was infected with the same strain of bird flu virus. The strain has not been detected in Iceland before and is not common.

Spread of bird flu low

The samples were studied at the University of Iceland’s Keldur Institute for Experimental Pathology. The results underline the importance of ensuring good infection prevention when dealing with poultry and other birds in captivity. Based on the data available at this point in time, however, it can be assumed that the spread of avian influenza viruses is low in Iceland and the risk of infection for poultry and other birds in captivity is therefore low.

Sequencing may determine origin

Few reports of sick or dead wild birds have been received by the Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) since spring, after reports of widespread bird deaths among kittiwakes, puffins, and other seabirds subsided. Sample tested by MAST ruled out bird flu as the cause of those deaths.

As of July, only five samples have been taken from wild birds. Three of them tested negative for bird flu, while the two mentioned above tested positive. Researchers are hoping to sequence the samples of the viruses in order to determine whether the new strain arrived from Europe or from migratory birds arriving in late summer from nesting sites in the western Atlantic. HPAI H5N5 has been detected in only four samples in Europe recently, all from wild birds in Norway and Sweden, and in a few samples from wild birds, red foxes, and skunks in eastern Canada.


The Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) reminds the public that reporting sick and dead wild birds is a key element in monitoring the presence and spread of bird flu.

Deep North Episode 43: To Catch an Oystercatcher

waders iceland oystercatcher

Under the regular ascent and descent of Keflavík jet traffic, out past the old American radar stations, at the northwestern tip of the Reykjanes peninsula, sits the Suðurnes Science and Learning Centre. Much like the airport terminal a few kilometres from here, this spit of low-flung land is a place where many visitors to this island come and go. Along with an international team of ecologists, Sölvi Rúnar Vignisson has been working here for the past 10 years studying the oystercatcher (in Icelandic, tjaldur), a distinctive shorebird whose migratory patterns may serve as a good indicator of climate change.

Read the story here.

To Catch an Oystercatcher

oystercatcher reykjanes

Under the regular ascent and descent of Keflavík jet traffic, out past the old American radar stations, at the northwestern tip of the Reykjanes peninsula, sits the Suðurnes Science and Learning Centre. Much like the airport terminal a few kilometres from here, this spit of low-flung land is a place where many visitors to this […]

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Proposal to Ban Sale of Greylag Geese

greylag goose iceland

The Ministry for the Environment, Energy, and Climate has published a draft amendment regarding bird hunting and the utilization of products from wild birds. It is available for comment on the government portal.

The proposed amendment aims to prohibit the unauthorized selling of grey geese and their products. It will also be prohibited to export them. However, the domestic sale of prepared geese will still be allowed.

In recent years, the population of grey geese has been declining, and the ministry’s proposal for a sales ban is intended to aid the recovery of the Icelandic population.

According to the draft amendment, the situation will be reassessed after a year, and if the decline in the population continues during that time, the duration of the hunting season for grey geese will be reconsidered. If there is an increase in the population, the need for an ongoing sales ban will be evaluated.

The Ministry for the Environment, Energy, and Climate emphasizes that violations of the regulation may result in fines or imprisonment of up to 2 years, as well as the revocation of hunting and firearms licenses.

The deadline for submitting comments is August 8th.

Poor Breeding Season After Cold Spring

bird nesting iceland

With the breeding season for many migratory birds in Iceland coming to a close, experts say that conditions have been less than optimal due to a cold, wet spring.

Tómas Grétar Gunnarsson, head of the Research Centre at the University of Iceland in the South, stated to RÚV:

“This is an average year in a way; we take two trips each summer where we monitor the young birds. In the first trip, we assess the breeding success of species that lay their eggs early, such as oystercatchers and godwits, and in the second trip, we focus on those that breed later, like plover, for example. In both cases, the results were well below average.”

The breeding success of seabirds has been evaluated annually by the centre since 2011.

According to Tómas, this is primarily due to the challenging seasonal conditions in the spring and early summer in South Iceland. However, it is expected that the breeding rates will be better in the northern and eastern regions.

“It’s a combination of various factors that influence this,” Tómas stated further.  “Weather conditions, food availability, and hatching times – everything is interconnected to some extent.”

Concerns about the puffin population have also been reported by ecologists due to their poor breeding in recent years.