Spring on the Wing – Golden Plover Arrives in Iceland

Golden Plover Iceland

Iceland’s herald of spring, the migratory golden plover, has arrived in the country. The first birds were spotted in the southeastern region yesterday, March 20, according to the Southeast Iceland Bird Observatory. Other migratory bird species, including white-fronted geese and pink-footed geese, have been spotted returning to their nesting grounds in small groups. Iceland is a key breeding area for many bird species: one-third of the world’s golden plovers, for example, breed on the island.

This winter has been a particularly snowy and stormy one across Iceland. A series of storms hit the country last month, bringing record snowfall to the Reykjavík area. As a result, local hardware stores sold out of snow shovels, blowers and scrapers in February. As most of the country is still a wintry wonderland, the golden plover is likely locals’ first true sign that spring is on its way.

Iceland’s Bird of the Year 2021 is the Golden Plover

Golden Plover Iceland

Iceland’s Bird of the Year 2021 is the golden plover, according to an election by Birdlife Iceland. The golden plover was chosen out of 20 birds but the great northern diver was a close second.

Birdlife Iceland organised the search for the Bird of the Year for the first time, but hope to make the election an annual event. The Bird of the Year is meant to raise awareness of birdlife and the threats it’s facing, such as climate change and habitat loss. Some of the birds in the competition, such as the puffin, the arctic tern, and the purple sandpiper are in a dire situation.

The golden plover on the other hand is doing well, with a stock of close to 400,000 pairs in Iceland. It’s a common bird in Iceland and about a third of all golden plovers lay their eggs in Iceland. It’s a migratory bird and flies to western Europe for winter, mostly Ireland but also France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Although the golden plover is a lovely bird, its popularity likely stems from its role as the harbinger of spring. Many a poem has been written celebrating the plover’s and spring’s arrival and the first plover sighting makes headlines every year.

2054 votes were cast, choosing from 20 birds and voters could choose their top five favourites. Every bird in the competition had an election campaign manager, promoting their bird on social media and in the media. Guðrún Jónsdóttir led the golden plover campaign, going on radio interviews, starting a Facebook page and even opening an election office, serving visitors coffee on the patio. According to her, “the golden plover is the nation’s one true unifying symbol.”

The top 10 birds for 2021 according to Birdlife Iceland’s voters were as follows:

  1. Golden plover
  2. Northern diver
  3. Rock ptarmigan
  4. Raven
  5. White wagtail
  6. Arctic tern
  7. Common snipe
  8. Puffin
  9. Blackbird
  10. Winter wren

Golden Plover Has Arrived, Heralding Spring in Iceland

golden plover in iceland

The first golden plover of the season was spotted in Stokkseyri, Southwest Iceland, yesterday morning. The plover is traditionally thought to herald the arrival of spring in Iceland. Birder Alex Máni Guðríðarson spotted the plover, on the same date and at the same location as the first plovers were seen in the spring of 2019. Vísir reported first.

“Lóan er komin að kveða burt snjóinn,” begins Páll Ólafsson‘s 19th-century ode to the bird: ‘The golden plover has arrived to sing away the snow.’ The poem became a popular folk song and its refrain has inspired numerous versions, from more traditional renditions to (much looser) punk adaptations.

More than a third of the world’s golden plover nest in Iceland. The bird’s average arrival date in Iceland is March 23. Last year it was spotted quite early, on March 15, but it arrived late all of the previous three years: in both 2019 and 2018, it was first spotted on March 28th; in 2017, on March 27th.

Golden Plover Heralds Arrival of Springtime in Iceland

Golden Plover Iceland

The first golden plovers were spotted near the fishing village of Höfn in Southeast Iceland on Sunday, March 15, RÚV reports. The plover is traditionally thought to herald the arrival of spring in Iceland. A birder outside of Höfn reported hearing the golden plover’s melancholy and melodic high-pitched trill on Saturday, but couldn’t see the bird. He went back out on Sunday, however, and was able to spot the springtime fowl, making the season’s arrival official in Iceland.

“Lóan er komin að kveða burt snjóinn,” begins Páll Ólafsson‘s 19th-century ode to the bird: ‘The golden plover has arrived to sing away the snow.’ The poem became a popular folk song and its refrain has inspired numerous versions, from more traditional renditions to (much looser) punk adaptations.

The golden plover’s average arrival date in Iceland is March 23, so this year’s spotting is significantly ahead of the curve. It arrived late for the last three years running: in both 2019 and 2018, it arrived on March 28th; in 2017, on March 27th.


A Third of the World’s Golden Plover Nest in Iceland

Golden Plover Iceland

More than a third of the world’s golden plover and around 27% of the world’s whimbrel populations nest in Iceland, RÚV reports. These findings were among those included in a paper entitled “Icelandic meadow-breeding waders: status, threats and conservation challenges,” published in the most recent issue of the Wader Study journal of shorebird science. According to the paper, the main threats to both bird species are habitat loss and climate change.

The article was coauthored by Dr. Lilja Jóhannesdóttir, a specialist at the South East Iceland Nature Research Center, and colleagues at the University of Iceland’s South Iceland Research Center, the University of East Anglia in the UK, and the University of Aveiro in Portugal.

Iceland has an incredibly large population of wading birds compared with those in neighbouring countries, where these birds’ habitats have been aggressively infringed upon, particularly due to agricultural expansion. However, in Iceland “…substantial expansion of agricultural land only began after the 1940s,” reads the paper abstract. “…Large areas of natural or semi-natural habitats are therefore still common and widespread in Iceland, and the current mosaic-like landscape created by areas of agricultural land within these habitats may help to provide the resources needed by the very large populations of waders that breed in the country.”

While wader species “have all been protected from hunting and egg-collecting by law since the 20th century,” however, these bird population still face threats in Iceland. “[L]owland landscapes in Iceland are changing quite rapidly, as a result of agricultural expansion, afforestation, shrub encroachment and widespread construction of summer cottages, and all of these developments pose potential threats to these species.” There are, explain the authors, no specific conservation efforts are currently aimed at meadow-breeding waders in Iceland.

In addition to the golden plover and whimbrel, roughly 12% of the world’s redshanks, 10% of the world’s dunlin, 7% of the world’s black-tailed godwits, and 3% of the world’s oystercatchers and snipes nest in Iceland as well.

In addition to habitat encroachment, climate change poses an incredible threat to Icelandic wildlife. A recent report projected that around 90% of animal species that call Iceland and the surrounding waters home will disappear in the next 50 years due to climate change.

Plover, Bearer of Spring, Has Arrived in Iceland

Golden Plover Iceland

A golden plover, traditionally believed to announce the arrival of spring in Iceland, was spotted in Stokkseyri on March 28, Vísir reports. The migratory bird’s return to Icelandic shores is a source of joy for locals, as it marks the end of winter.

Hjördís Davíðsdóttir and her husband were taking a customary stroll on the beach in Stokkseyri, Southwest Iceland, late last week when they spotted three plovers. “Spring has arrived, it’s confirmed,” Hjördís wrote in a Facebook post.

The first plover sighting in 2018 also occurred on March 28, a little later than usual. The bird’s average date of arrival to the island is March 23, though in 2017 it was also fashionably late, arriving on March 27.

The European golden plover, also known as the Eurasian golden plover, spends the winter as far south as North Africa, returning north to breed. It’s colouring features a white s-shaped band stretching from its forehead to its flanks.