A student at the University Centre of the Westfjords is painting the town red – but not in the traditional meaning of the phrase. “I’m looking at arctic terns and determining if painting the road will actually help keep them off of the road, especially the chicks,” Kelly Umlah, a master’s student studying Coastal and Marine Management at the university told RÚV.
Though arctic tern chicks are nearly full-grown at this time of year, they have yet to perfect the art of flying or learn to steer clear of danger such as vehicles. The chicks often land on paved roads, which collect heat and provide camouflage for the black, white, and grey birds.
Arctic terns in a nesting area in Bolungarvík, Westfjords. Photo: a screenshot from RÚV.
That is where Umlah’s research comes in – the student has painted sections of road in Bolungarvík, Westfjords, red in order to discourage chicks from landing on it. The experiment is built on the results of a 2016 study that took place in Snæfellsnes, West Iceland where several bright colours were tested on roads for the same purpose. “I chose to do only red whereas they did a couple of different colours because they determined that red was the most consistent for keeping them off the road,” Umlah says.
The Canadian student checks on the nesting area three times a day to see whether any birds have been killed by impact with wheels or windshields, and notes whether birds are sitting on the road and if so on which part. “I would love to see that the birds stay off the red parts. It’s a relatively cheap way of managing the life of these birds, especially in nesting areas,” Umlah says. “And if they do stay off on the painted part it would be good to implement elsewhere in Iceland and around the world.”