Keeping Geese Away from Runway a Challenging Job

The domestic airport in Egilsstaðir, northeast Iceland, receives passengers from all over the country, and the world, but some are more welcome than others. Geese are a seasonal presence at the airport, RÚV reports, and as they pose a risk to planes, people, and themselves, the task of shooing them away is an important one.

Honking back

Geese flock to this area by the thousands each spring, and have likely done so for centuries before this airport was ever here. However, flights need to depart from the airport in the morning, and before they can, employees of the airport move up and down the runway, scaring geese away with the honking of horns.

To the east of the runway is a field, where geese will often assemble to feed. Walking dogs in this area is banned, as they might scare the geese at an inopportune moment, i.e., the take-off or landing of a plane.

Many tools in the toolbox

Honking horns is not the only weapon in the airport’s arsenal against the geese. Laser pointers also keep the geese at bay, effectively enough, as well as high-pitched whistles that geese find unpleasant and keep them at bay.

But there is also the concern about younglings, as geese are prone to build their nests near the runway. For this, fences are used, or sometimes the eggs themselves are moved.

Nonetheless, geese and airplanes alike use very similar flight paths in this part of Iceland, and others. It is likely that keeping geese away from their larger, mechanical cousins will be an ongoing job for as long as airplanes exist in Iceland.

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Goose Flies from UK to Iceland in 7 Hours

barnacle goose

It’s springtime in Iceland and geese are returning to the island’s shores in droves. GPS tracking has given researchers fascinating insight into their journeys, which are surprisingly quick though not always direct, RÚV reports. One barnacle goose had the best recorded time, crossing some 900 km [560 mi] from the UK to Iceland in just seven hours.

“It was in a strong northerly wind. It flew well over 100 km [62 mi] per hour,” says Arnór Þórir Sigfússon, a wildlife ecologist at Verkís, about the aforementioned record-holder. Arnór is monitoring some 20 geese equipped with a GPS tracker. Eight of them have already arrived in Iceland, while one is believed to be outside the service area or possibly dead.

The GPS trackers are lightweight and operate with the help of solar-powered batteries. The goose journeys they track are not always direct, with a few geese appearing to turn southward before reaching Iceland, then correcting course. One goose flew westward around Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier, to reach its nesting ground in North Iceland, rather than flying directly across the icy peaks.

In 2019, a greylag goose and namesake of Arnór’s completed the journey from Scotland to Iceland in 20 hours, a distance of 1,115 km [693 mi].

Goose Flew to Iceland from Scotland in Less Than a Day

A greylag goose named Arnór completed its migratory flight from the Firth of Tay in Scotland to the Fagurhólsmýri moor in Southeast Iceland in 20 hours, RÚV reports. This is an estimated distance of 1,115km (693mi). The gander was tagged with a GPS tracker in Blönduós, North Iceland in July 2018 before flying back to Scotland, and spending its winter just east of the city of Dundee.

According to ornithologist Arnór Þórir Sigfússon, who posted his namesake’s journey on Facebook on Wednesday, the gander is the third greylag to have been tagged with a GPS tracker. The other two were geese named Linda and Linda Björk. Linda was shot by a hunter in Skagafjörður in the fall of 2016; Linda Björk’s transmitter was found in 2017. Its owner’s fate is unknown, although Linda Björk is presumed to be dead.

Meanwhile, Árnor the greylag gander has had a far happier story since being tagged last year. His tracking data shows that he spent some time in the fishing grounds along the southern coast of Iceland before heading to Scotland. He arrived in the Firth of Tay in November and has been wintering there since. Arnór set off on his journey back to Iceland on Monday around midnight and did not stop until he arrived in Fagurhólsmýri. He then rested there for a short time. As of 6 am on Wednesday morning, however, Arnór had already taken off again, and was reported to be flying over the Skeiðarársandur plain and northwest over the Vatnajökull glacier.

Árnor Þórir said he expected that before long, the gander would arrive back in Blönduós, where an eager group of geese enthusiasts were looking forward to welcoming the international traveller.

Birds of a Different Feather Seen Flocking Together

Geese and swans were observed flying together in V-formation over Vík í Mýrdal in South Iceland on Thursday, RÚV reports. While it’s unusual to see two different species flocking together, according to a local ornithologist it is not unheard of.

Birna Viðarsdóttir posted the picture to a Facebook group dedicated to Icelandic bird life and it quickly garnered a great deal of attention, as well as a fair amount of skepticism – particularly since the photo was taken on April 1, April Fools’ Day. “A number of people have asked whether it’s been photoshopped,” she told RÚV, “but it wasn’t.”

Ornithologist Arnór Þórir Sigfússon says that it’s uncommon to see different kinds of birds flying together in V-formation, but it has been known to happen. Although swans and geese both migrate to Iceland from Great Britain around this time of year, Arnór Þór thinks it’s unlikely that this particular group of birds did so together the whole way, mostly because geese and swans fly at different speeds. He said he thought it more likely that the swans in Birna’s picture had joined a group of geese, rather than vice versa.

Arnór Þór also noted that different types of geese, such as graylags and pink-footed geese, are known to fly in formation together sometimes, but this is harder for an observer on the ground to see.

Southern Iceland Beset by Barnacle Geese

Barnacle geese

A dramatic influx of barnacle geese in South Iceland is raising concern among farmers whose crops are being compromised by these winged invaders, RÚV reports. A recent study shows that the geese are reducing hay harvests by as much as 24%, leading some to call for a longer hunting season to better control the birds’ population.

Last spring, the South East Iceland Nature Research Center investigated the effects of goose grazing on hay harvesting and found that on average, farmers whose fields are beset with barnacle geese are losing three hay bales per hectare (2.471 acres).

“…The fields are just completely stripped by those creatures when they leave at the start of May,” complained Björn Borgþór Þorbergsson, a farmer in Suðursveit. “For example, the thing that was worst about the spring was that there was double the amount of manure and half the harvest on part of the fields.”

GPS trackers show that barnacle geese typically stop over in South and Southeast Iceland in the early part of spring, before continuing on to Greenland where they lay their eggs. The geese have increasingly started nesting in Iceland, however. In 2014, 360 barnacle geese nests were found on Skúmey island in the Jökusárlón glacial lagoon. This went up to 970 in 2017 and last summer, there were over 1,100.

“There’s very little you can really do about it yourself,” said Björn. “Shooting them always returns the best results, but as you know, you’re not allowed to do that in the spring.” Currently, the hunting season for geese begins on September 25, which according to Björn, isn’t early enough.

“[The barnacle goose] is haunting us over the summers, too. He’s become a local here.”