The Icelandic Institute of Natural History has completed its springtime survey of the country’s ptarmigan stock.
The Institute counted 1,308 male ptarmigans, which they believe to be around one percent of the total number. The overall stock is, they believe, below its historical average.
Counting the birds proved difficult this year due to poor spring weather, but male ptarmigan were counted in 36 areas all over Iceland.
The reduction in ptarmigan numbers in the southwest and Westfjords is described as significant. There are thought to be 28 percent fewer male ptarmigan in Southwest Iceland this spring than last year and researchers saw 43 percent fewer male ptarmigan in the Westfjords this time round.
“In a historical context the ptarmigan stock in 2015 is below average everywhere except Northeast Iceland and East Iceland,” the Institute says in a statement. In Northeast Iceland 39 percent more male ptarmigan were counted this spring than last.
The statement says that it used to take 10-12 years between peaks and troughs in the population, but that that has shortened significantly since the species started being protected in 2003-4.
The Institute expects to release details of how much hunting it believes the ptarmigan stock can handle this year in August, when it has more information on this year’s nesting and last year’s hunting, Vísir reported.
Ptarmigan is a popular game bird in Iceland and a traditional Christmas food, but its population levels have been closely monitored since they began dropping sharply. Hunting is usually allowed only on a few weekends in autumn—and some years it has been banned altogether.