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.