Iceland’s sea bird stock ‘in dismal shape’

The nesting season of many types of sea bird all around Iceland has been poor this year and there is an all-out puffin and Arctic tern collapse in progress to the south and west of the country.

Ornithologists say the situation has not looked worse for many decades. Scientists have been travelling around Iceland in recent days and weeks, researching sea bird stocks and the status of their nesting. RUV reported at the weekend that extremely few Arctic tern nests were found on the Snaefellsnes peninsula, where thousands of the birds usually lay their eggs.

A similarly worrying picture is emerging about the puffin stock and the situation is particularly bad on the Westman Islands and the south and west of the Icelandic mainland. Ornithologist Aevar Pedersen told RUV that the situation had been bad last year, but is even worse this year. The overall picture is pretty dismal, he said — adding that he has not seen a worse breeding season for many years, indeed decades.

“Among sea birds it is generally extremely poor, and among waders it seems to be quite poor as well — at the very least they are nesting very late. We have been looking at snipes out west on Flatey island in Breidafjordur and there are only about 20 percent as many as there should be. On the other hand, it appears to be a good nesting season for small birds like wagtails and snow buntings,” Pedersen said.

The nesting season among Arctic terns and puffins has simply failed to take place in large parts of Iceland. Both species mainly eat sand eels which have almost disappeared — especially in the seas to the south and west of Iceland.

Puffins are still nesting in North Iceland, where they feed on capelin; but the lack of sand eels further south is causing Arctic tern and puffin breeding seasons to fail yet again. The most plausible explanation for the sand eels’ disappearance is the continued ocean warming around Iceland.

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