Record Number of Bird Species This Winter

Kristinn Haukur Skarphéðinsson, animal ecologist for The Icelandic Institute of Natural History says that a record number of bird species have chosen to make Iceland their winter dwelling place, RÚV reports. Over 90 species have been reported by birdwatchers this winter, an increase Kristinn and colleagues relate to climate change. At the same time there is a noticeable decrease in numbers within known bird species, and some are on the endangered species list, including the Atlantic puffin.

The institute has been keeping a tally of winter birds in Iceland as a part of a special long-running project started in 1952. Recruiting amateur birdwatchers to help keep watch, the institute started the project as a bit of a hobby for Iceland’s bird watching community, but its success means it is now considered a valuable indicator of change in Iceland’s fauna.

Over 50 species of birds are considered winter regulars in Iceland, but according to Kristinn, new species have begun settling here, including some rare ones. “This years tally has revealed 90 species, which is a record high for Iceland,” Kristinn says.

Climate change can drastically change the behaviour of birds, for example there has been a noticeable increase in swans, Eurasian wigeons and greylag geese over the last few years. Furthermore, bird species that prefer colder climates have moved on. “The bird we relate to snow, the snow bunting, has been noticeably scarcer here in the past years,” Kristinn says. “They seem to be yielding to environmental changes that have happened over the last 10 to 20 years.”

Iceland’s increasingly mild winters affect many different species in myriad of ways. The rock ptarmigan, for example, whose plumage changes in winter from brown to white, becomes easy pray for gyrfalcons and human hunters alike when snow is sparse. In 2017, little to no snow fell, making the snow white rock ptarmigans stick out. “You could say it was like shooting fish in a barrel during the first few days of ptarmigan hunting season.”

The Icelandic Institute of Natural History has made a list of endangered species of birds, following guidelines by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Many known bird species feature on the list, including the Atlantic puffin, Eurasian curlew, the great skua and many others.

Dentists Warn of Crackling, Nuts, and Pellets

ptarmigan hunter in snow

Elín Sigurgeirsdóttir, head of the Dentist Association of Iceland, has warned people to bite carefully when feasting on delicacies this Christmas, mbl.is reports. It’s not uncommon this time of year for people to seek the help of dentists as they break their teeth chomping on nuts as well as particularly crisp crackling. Cracklings are crisp pork fat surrounding roasted pork, a favoured festive delicacy in Iceland.

“Us dentists become particularly aware of this problem around this time of year. Really, it happens as soon as Christmas parties start.”, Elín said. “People break their teeth by crunching the crackling on pork roast. The culprit can sometimes be nut shells which haven’t been removed appropriately and are stuck to the nut, which is put into the sauce or some dish, so the shell isn’t visible and people chomp on it.”

Elín states that the most severe of the cases involve pellets still found in rock ptarmigans, a favoured Christmas delicacy of many Icelanders.

Ptarmigan Hunting Season Extended

The Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources has decided to extend the annual hunting season by three days this year, increasing it to 15 days from last year’s 12, mbl.is reports. Ptarmigan season begins today, October 26th, and will take place on the next four subsequent weekends until it ends on Sunday, November 25th.

Rock ptarmigan are still hunted in Iceland as they are considered a delicacy, often consumed on Christmas Eve. The Icelandic Institute of Natural History claims the preservation status the ptarmigan gained in 2003 has helped immensely to restore the numbers. And indeed, the estimated total number of ptarmigan in Iceland as of this spring was 173,000, up from 132,000 in 2016.

A noticeable decrease in ptarmigan hunting has also taken place since 2005. Last season, the hunting quota for last past hunting season allowed for 57,000 ptarmigans to be shot.

The recommended number of ptarmigans to be hunted this year is 67,000. Based on the number of hunters that have registered in previous years, this would come out to an average of ten ptarmigans a hunter. However, the current ban on the sale of ptarmigan remains in place.

The Ministry for the Environment credits the increased stability of the ptarmigan population for the extension of the hunting season and explained that adding the extra days will also hopefully reduce stress on the hunting grounds.

Rock Ptarmigan Numbers Up

Rock Ptarmigan

The rock ptarmigan population has increased in most parts of the country, Rúv reports. The Icelandic Institute of Natural History released its yearly report on the matter recently, with rock ptarmigan population numbers up in all parts of the country expect South Iceland and East Iceland. Rock ptarmigan numbers are now above average, or average, in all parts of the country.

The estimated total number of ptarmigan in Iceland as of this spring is 173,000. In 2016 the number was 132,000. The most marked increase in rock ptarmigan numbers was in the Westfjords and North West Iceland. The density of male rock ptarmigans was the third highest in the district of Þingeyjarsýsla since measurements began in 1981.

Regular fluctuations in rock ptarmigan numbers last for 10 to 12 years, and the stock was at a high point in 1986 and 1998. Rock ptarmigan are still hunted in Iceland as they are considered a delicacy, often consumed on Christmas Eve. The Icelandic Institute of Natural History claims the preservation status the rock ptarmigan gained in 2003 has helped immensely to restore the numbers. A noticeable decrease in rock ptarmigan hunting has also taken place since 2005, while the hunting permit for this past hunting season allowed for 57,000 ptarmigan to be shot. The hunting takes place for 12 total days, spread over weekends.

Ólafur Karl Nielsen at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History can provide further information on the matter. E-mail: [email protected]