New Tracking Data Provides Insight into Behaviour of Juvenile Eagles

iceland eagle

The juvenile eagle, Lambi, has gone on quite the journey since he left home in November of 2022.

Since juvenile eagles have been tagged beginning in 2019, new data is allowing Icelandic researchers better insights into the behaviour of these birds, especially in the first year of their life.

 

The eagle in question, Lambi, was tagged in July of 2022. He stayed around his parental nest until November, when he began to range far and wide. Now, extensive data is giving Icelandic biologists new insight into the behaviour of these young birds.

Read more: Bad Year for Eagle Nesting

At the end of November, Lambi left his home near Breiðafjörður to cross the Snæfellsnes peninsula. From there, he explored much of West and North Iceland, including the Westfjords.

The above video shows his travels.

In the summer of 2022, a total of 14 young eagles were tagged with transmitters. Of these original 14, three were confirmed as dying when they were still at their home nest. Of these three dead juveniles, two are confirmed to have died from bird flu (HPAI H5N1).

A further seven juvenile eagles left the nest: three in November, two in December, and two in January. Notably, three eagles are still at their home nest as of March 13. This is considered to be unusually late for eagles to leave the nest. In previous years, most juveniles have left the nest by February.

Ask Iceland Review: Do Eagles Live in Iceland?

This is significant, as it leaves the parents relatively little breathing room for the next breeding season. Eagles in Iceland generally begin nesting in March and April, and if last year’s young are still in the nest, it can negatively impact the next generation.

 

 

Arctic Fox Gets Starring Role in New Netflix Series

Iceland’s Arctic fox has a starring role in the upcoming Netflix series “Wild Babies,” RÚV reports.

Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, the eight-part series explores the trials and tribulations of baby animals such as elephants, cuckoos, pangolins, seal pups, mongeese, and macaques in the beginning of their lives.

Arctic fox cub Silver is followed in episode 7, “Hostile Homes,” which also features baby penguins and adolescent lions. The episode, which was shot in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords, includes the first-ever footage of Arctic foxes swimming. This is rather remarkable, as the animals famously hate getting wet. However, by overcoming their aversion to immersion, Arctic fox parents are able to catch more prey and thereby increase the chances of their cubs surviving. The episode also shows the cubs learning to swim themselves and hunting for the first time.

The footage for the episode was taken over July and August last year, when the film crew accompanied scientists from the Icelandic Institute of Natural History on their field visits to Hornstrandir. Mammalian biologist Ester Rut Unnsteinsdóttir chose appropriate locations for filming, ensuring that the foxes were respected and undisturbed by the presence of the crew for the duration of the shoot.

“Wild Babies” is on Netflix now.

This Season, Ptarmigan Shooting Confined to the Afternoons

Rock ptarmigan

After conferring with scientists and other interested parties, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, the Minister for the Environment and Natural resources, has decided to forbid ptarmigan hunting before noon during this year’s hunting season, RÚV reports. The head of the Icelandic Hunting and Shooting Association says that he is pleased with the Minister’s decision.

“A wholesome walk in nature”

Last week, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History submitted its annual recommendation to the Environment Agency of Iceland concerning the hunting quota of ptarmigan. The Institute advised a quota of 20,000 birds, which is 5,000 fewer than last year.

In response to the proposed quota, Áki Ármann Jónsson, head of SKOTVÍS (The Icelandic Hunting and Shooting Association), lamented the poor state of the ptarmigan stock, saying that this season’s hunt would merely constitute “a wholesome walk in nature.”

The Environment Agency – having taken into consideration the rationale of the Icelandic Institute of Natural History – submitted its proposal to the Ministry of the Environment a few days later. The agency advised that no changes be made to hunting regulations from the previous two years.

These regulations, which were adopted in the fall of 2019 and are in effect for three years, specify the duration of the ptarmigan hunting season as lasting from November 1 to November 30, excluding Wednesdays and Thursdays (a total of 22 days).

A gap of 12,000 ptarmigan

In light of these two differing recommendations, Guðmundur Ingi acknowledged that without changes to the current hunting regulations, 32,000 ptarmigan would most likely be shot this season. To find an acceptable way to close the gap, the Minister called a meeting with representatives of SKOTVÍS yesterday.

After the meeting, Guðmundur announced that the best way to protect the ptarmigan population would be to forbid the shooting of ptarmigan before noon during this year’s hunting season. The minister also admitted that it was unfortunate how late the decision was being made, citing the fact that the Icelandic Institute of Natural History hadn’t submitted their advisement until October 18.

“I wanted to find ways for us to keep to the quota of 20,000 birds. That’s why, after conferring with institutions and the Icelandic Hunting Association (SKOTVÍS), we made this decision today to change the legislation so that hunters will only be allowed to shoot in the afternoon.”

Guðmundur hopes that this alteration will help reduce the number of ptarmigan hunted this season. “We do, of course, encourage hunters to shoot only three to four ptarmigans or to cease completely so that the ptarmigan may enjoy the benefit of the doubt.”

Hunters pleased with the Minister’s decision

Áki Ármann Jónsson, Director of SKOTVÍS (The Icelandic Hunting and Shooting Association), stated that he is pleased with the Minister’s decision.

“I’m really pleased with this arrangement. I want to compliment the Minister for his consideration of our proposals during his decision-making. He listened to our reasoning and entrusted hunters with the responsibility of keeping with the limits of the quota advisement.”

The hunting season begins on Monday.

Ptarmigan Population Steadily Dwindling, Ornithologist Says

This fall, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History recommends a hunting quota of 20,000 ptarmigan, RÚV reports. Never in the Institute’s 16-year history of advisement has the ptarmigan population been smaller. An ornithologist working for the institute maintains that the population has dwindled in the long term.

The population at an all-time low

Rock ptarmigan are still hunted in Iceland as they are considered a delicacy, often consumed on Christmas Eve. Although the ptarmigan was granted protective status in 2003, its numbers have been steadily dwindling. This year, for example, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History recommends a hunting quota of 20,000 birds, which is 5,000 ptarmigan fewer than last fall (which, in turn, was a 35% decrease from 2019).

According to ornithologist Ólafur Karl Nielsen, the institute has never advised a smaller quota. “The Institute has been making recommendations for 16 years now, which isn’t that long, actually. But during this time, we estimate that the ptarmigan population has never been smaller.”

Fences, power lines, hazardous to the ptarmigan

The ptarmigan population undergoes regular fluctuations, reaching its zenith every ten or twelve years. These fluctuations have natural explanations, according to Ólafur, although many other man-made phenomena now contribute to the ptarmigan’s rate of mortality. “Fences, power lines, and other such things, kill numerous ptarmigan each year.”

As noted by RÚV, the ptarmigan population has been trending downward over the past years, although numbers vary between regions. Ptarmigan are relatively numerous in the West Fjords and in West Iceland, for example, where it is estimated that the population will reach its nadir in two to three years. In North, East, and South Iceland, however, the population has already reached an all-time low, with few birds being found in those parts of the country. “But in the long term, the ptarmigan faces great adversity, and the population has been dwindling. I think we can say that for certain.”

The ptarmigan population is estimated at approximately 248,000 birds, and the Icelandic Institute of Natural History recommends that this season’s hunting quota not exceed 9%. This translates to four birds per hunter (compared to five birds last year). The institute’s recommendation has been passed onto the Environment Agency of Iceland, which will, in turn, submit proposals to the Ministry of the Environment.

The ptarmigan hunting season extends to every day in November, excluding Wednesdays and Thursdays, for a total of 22 days.

Chicks in 18 Gyrfalcon Nests in Northeast Iceland This Summer

Gyrfalcon chicks

Eighteen pairs of gyrfalcons fledged successfully in Northeast Iceland this summer, RÚV reports. According to ornithologist Ólafur K. Nielsen, the gyrfalcon, classified as “species vulnerable,” has been in gradual decline over the past few years, although it is not in crisis.

“Species vulnerable”

Ólafur K. Nielsen, an ornithologist with the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, has spent the past 41 summers researching falcon territories in Northeast Iceland. Ólafur recently returned from his annual research trip, where he visited all of the 84 territories to check occupancy and survey the population. Fifty territories were occupied this summer.

The gyrfalcon is classified as “species vulnerable” according to the Icelandic Institute of Natural History. Its population goes hand to hand with the number of ptarmigans, for the two species are completely intertwined. As Ólafur noted in an interview with this magazine ins 2019, “researching gyrfalcons is impossible without researching ptarmigans and vice versa.”

“The count from this spring shows that the population is in decline, which probably has something to do with a decline in the number of ptarmigan,” Ólafur stated in an interview with RÚV this weekend. “The population rises and falls in rather extreme swings, vacillating by as much as a factor of ten or twenty in the space of a few years.”

A slow decline between years

The gyrfalcon population usually reaches its apex two to three years after the ptarmigan population peaks, which last occurred in ca. 2018 or 2019: “The population within the research area has reached a zenith of 65 pairs, but now we’re seeing somewhere between 45 and 50. It’s been a slow decline over the past few years,” Ólafur commented.

The number of gyrfalcons in the country peaked in 1966 and 1986, with around 65 pairs of falcons occupying territories in Northeast Iceland. This number has declined gradually, along with the ptarmigan population, which could be cause for worry: “The gyrfalcon is on a species vulnerable list,” Ólafur stated. “It’s a small population, comprising perhaps two to three thousand falcons in the entire country. It isn’t in crisis. But its future could be determined by the future of the ptarmigan; as long as we’ve got a healthy number of ptarmigan, we’ll have falcons.”

Despite 50 territories being occupied, gyrfalcons only fledged successfully in 18 of them. “The lion’s share of the pairs were sterile, and some of the pairs who attempted to reproduce were unsuccessful,” Ólafur observed. “These birds were laying eggs very late, which means that they bear fewer eggs. The number of eggs in the nests was low, which is why we’re seeing so few chicks at the end of the summer. But the conditions were auspicious, so those falcons who did reproduce this summer raised their young quite well.”

Fewer Mated Arctic Fox Pairs in Hornstrandir Than Last Year

Arctic Fox Iceland

Hornstrandir Nature Preserve in the Westfjords has half the number of arctic fox pairs with young than it usually does at this time of year, RÚV reports. The drop in the number of mated pairs comes even as the animals’ territory has doubled in size. Human foot traffic through the area is thought to disturb the foxes a great deal, particularly mothers who are still nursing their young and have to stay in their dens.

These findings were among those made by the Icelandic Institute of Natural History (IINH) and their collaborators at the Arctic Fox Centre after their yearly site visit to Hornstrandir from June 17 – 30. During this time, researchers made stops at every known burrow in the reserve and made note of whether these were inhabited, as well as tracking foxes’ movements in and out of them. Three burrows were monitored for twelve hours, specifically to monitor how long adult foxes spent in them, and what food they brought back to them, if any. A log was kept of any food scraps that had been left in or around the burrows and stool samples were collected for future study.

Researchers also monitored and made observations about the number of visitors moving through fox-inhabited areas, as well as their behaviour around burrows. As IINH reported on its Facebook page, visitor traffic was minimal at the start of the expedition, but it increased during the almost two weeks that researchers were present in the reserve.

Even though the number of mated arctic fox pairs with young is significantly less than usual, the research teams affirm that the overall status of the population is good. Even so, researchers plan to monitor human traffic through Hornstrandir and another expedition to the reserve is already planned for later this summer to check in on the status of the arctic fox population at that time. Researchers hope that any travellers to Hornstrandir will follow the directions of the park rangers, stay on marked paths, and not disturb any wildlife they may encounter while visiting.

Record Number of Birds Tagged in Iceland in 2018

In 2018, 21,648 birds belonging to 83 different species were tagged for research purposes in Iceland. It’s an annual record for the country, which has been tagging birds for 98 years. The Icelandic Institute of Natural History released a report on bird banding, or ringing in 2018, which gives fascinating insight into birds’ international travels.

Since 1921, 740,524 birds have been tagged in Iceland, representing 158 different species. Half of the birds tagged in 2018 were redpolls (10,945). Other species that were dominant include the redwing (2,844), snow bunting (1,290), arctic tern (950), puffin (777), and eider duck (551). Two russet backed thrushes (Hylocichla ustulata) were tagged last year, a species which had never been marked before in Iceland.

More recoveries and readings

An unusually high number of recoveries and readings were received in 2018, and 4,579 were processed. Nearly 4,000 of these, however, were so-called “own-label controls,” or birds recaptured by their taggers. A total of 138 birds tagged in Iceland were found abroad. One redpoll tagged in Akureyri, North Iceland was retrieved 1,729km (1,074mi) away later that year in Skagen, Denmark. Others were found even farther from the location where they were tagged. Three whimbrels were recovered 3,880-5,770km (2,411-3,585mi) away from their tagging location. One of these was found in Guinea-Bissau 52 days after being tagged in Iceland. One common gull which was tagged at Akureyri airport in 2016 was retrieved twice in Massachusetts in 2017 and 2018, 4,111km (2,554mi) away. A total of 88 birds with foreign tags were also recovered in Iceland last year, of which 80 had been tagged in the British Isles.

Age records broken

Many of the birds recovered broke known age records. A manx shearwater which was marked as an adult in 1991 on the Westman Islands was retrieved in the same place in 2017, 26 years later. The bird was then at least 28 years old. A greylag goose marked in 2000 near Blönduós, North Iceland, was found dead in the fall of 2017, then 17 and a half years old. A white-tailed eagle marked as a nestling in Snæfellsnes, West Iceland in 1993 was found dying in January 2018, the 24 and a half years old. The eagle was given medical attention and released back into the wild.

Wind Carries European Birch Pollen to Iceland

Pollen from birch trees in Europe and as far away as Russia reached Iceland last week. RÚV reports that the pollen was carried along with dust from the Sahara Desert on strong winds that originated in Eastern Europe. Much of the dust and pollen settled over the Mediterranean Sea, but a measurable quantity made the journey all the way to Iceland.

On April 25, the First Day of Summer in Iceland, a fair amount of the Saharan dust and a great deal of European pollen was caught in traps placed by the Icelandic Institute of Natural History in the municipality of Garðabær in the capital area and in Akureyri in North Iceland. According to an announcement on its website, the institute has only measured a higher pollen count twice since it began taking such measurements, that is in May 2006 and April 2014.

There was a veritable explosion of vegetation blooming over the last week in both North and South Iceland, although particularly around Akureyri. It’s expected then that there will be high levels of birch pollen circulating in the coming weeks, which may cause difficulties for people with pollen allergies.

Swan is Saved After Getting Bill Stuck in Can

A swan that had been residing on Urriðakot lake in the municipality of Garðabær was saved from certain death earlier today, Morgunblaðið reports. The swan had managed to get his bill stuck in half a can of Red Bull at least two weeks ago, preventing the swan from feeding. Today, a team from the Icelandic Institute of Natural History finally captured the bird and removed the can. The swan is now convalescing at Reykjavík’s Fjölskyldu- og Húsdýragarðurinn Park and Zoo.

According to reports, people living close to the lake had spotted the troubled bird, but had no luck in trying to capture or assist the animal. According to Ólafur Nielsen of the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, the swan was close to death when he and his team managed to capture the bird today and swiftly remove the can. “The bird was exhausted and dying on the lake,” Ólafur says. “That’s why we were quick to capture it.”

The swan’s bruised bill has been disinfected and the bird has been moved to Fjölskyldu- og Húsdýragarðurinn Park and Zoo while it recuperates. Ólafur is hopeful that the swan will regain its former strength. “The bird was pretty stocky,” he says, adding that he’s confident the zoo will take good care of it.

Ólafur says that the swan’s case is sadly not an isolated one, with the Icelandic Institute of Natural History regularly dealing with birds that have gotten stuck in plastic or other garbage.

Fjölskyldu- og Húsdýragarðurinn Park and Zoo has already posted about the unlucky swan on their Facebook site, saying that after being tended to, the swan has already started eating and will stay at the zoo for as long as it

Seals Listed Critically Endangered in Iceland

iceland fishing

The spotted seal is critically endangered in Iceland, according to the Icelandic Institute of Natural History’s newest Red List. RÚV reported first. Spotted seals numbered 7,600 in 2016, down from around 33,000 when monitoring of their stocks began in 1980. The animals’ numbers thus decreased around 77% over the 35-year period. If seal numbers continue to decrease at the same rate, they will decrease by 84% over the next 45 years, a time period of three generations for the animals.

The Institute states that spotted seals have very little protection in Iceland and further research is needed to know what is causing their numbers to drop. The decrease has been attributed to seals getting caught in fishing nets, as well as hunting. Though traditional seal hunting is rarely practiced in Iceland, seals are still hunted around estuaries in order to minimise their alleged impact on salmon stocks. Other factors which could affect seal numbers are food shortage, environmental changes, pollution, and disease.

Kristinn Haukur Skarphéðinsson, Head of Zoology at the Institute, says seal “deaths need to be reduced, whatever the causes,” adding that legislation protecting the animals is still “in the mid-19th century.”