Earlier this month I watched a pair of puffins feeding on the sea cliffs of Flatey island in Breiðafjörður bay. As anyone who has had the opportunity to do so knows, they’re a joy to watch.
These birds, with their strikingly colorful beaks and clown-like eye makeup, are remarkably tame. Their future, however, is uncertain given the dwindling survival rate of puffin chicks in Iceland in recent years.
IR contributor Edward Hancox wrote about the BBC, the birds, which spend the winter months at sea before reuniting with their partners at the same burrow each summer, are thought to have been unable to feed due to storms at sea.
The death of a large number of seabirds in a single incident is known as a ‘wreck.’ The worst in 60 years, it hit just before the breeding season.
And things don’t look good in other parts of the world either with AP reporting in June that the puffin population is at risk in the U.S. too. The birds have been dying of starvation in the Gulf of Maine, reportedly due to shifting fish populations and the rise in ocean temperatures.
This week we got news that for the ninth summer in a row puffin nesting has failed in Vestmanneyjar, the world’s largest puffin colony, located off South Iceland.
An estimated four percent of chicks that hatched this summer have survived. Scientists believe that the adult puffins fled their nests in late July due to lack of food, consisting of mostly sandeel, herring and capelin.
The decision by authorities in Vestmanneyjar to revoke the ban on hunting puffins, in place for the past two years, was criticized but the hunting season was considered unsuccessful by hunters and according to a report on mbl.is today, strong demand now exists for the meat, considered a delicacy in parts of Iceland.
Thankfully, the situation is better in parts of North Iceland with a record 91 percent of puffin burrows on Drangey island in Skagafjörður having being occupied by puffins returning to lay eggs earlier this summer.
I’ve heard reports this summer, though, from both locals and those who travel regularly to Iceland that they viewed far fewer puffins in Iceland than in previous years.
The puffin is a symbol of Iceland and a major tourist drawcard but there are other birds, like kittawake and sea eagle, not to mention the Arctic tern, which are in trouble too (the pink-footed goose though is doing well, with the stock at a record high). Scientists report that Arctic tern nesting has never been less successful in Iceland as this summer.
What exactly is happening to Iceland’s rich birdlife is not certain but it’s fair to say that the situation does not look good.
Zoë Robert – email@example.com