Iceland Mag

6 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


Record number of Arctic Terns by the downtown lake provide protection for ducklings

By Magnús Sveinn Helgason

  • Lake Tjörnin (The Pond) In addition to the Arctic terns, swans and six different types of ducks nest at the lake, which is located in Reykjavík's centre, lake each year. Photo/GVA

This year is looking to be unusually good for many duck species on the lake in downtown Reykjavík. According to biologists who monitor the lake the reason is that nesting ducks and their chicks have enjoyed the protection of a record number of Arctic terns (sterna) who nested by the lake this year. The Arctic tern is of course notorious for the fierceness with which it protects its nests.


Long distance traveller The Arctic tern flies all the way to the Antarctic to enjoy the Antarctic summer during winters in the northern hemisphere. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

Record year for the Arctic tern
Every year biologists and ornithologists monitor the condition of the downtown lake, the number of birds who nest by the lake and the number of chicks who survive the summer and make it to adulthood. According to recently completed counts this summer will set a record for both the number of nesting pairs of terns and the numbers of chicks who make it to adulthood.

Ólafur K. Nielsen, an ornithologist at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History told the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service that close to 200 pairs of terns nested by the lake, and 100-200 chicks seem to have made it to adulthood. Most of the terns have left, but some flightless chicks remain on the University grounds, south of the lake, along with their parents.

The primary reason for the success of the terns on the lake seems to be that the black-backed gull has for some reason disappeared from the lake. Several hundred stayed at the lake last year, but only a handful this year, leaving more food for the terns. The disappearance of the black-backed gulls is not only welcome news to the terns and the ducks, since the majority of the primate population of the capital region, as well as migratory individuals, consider the gulls a nuisance.

Air cover for ducklings
The record number ofArctic terns proved a great help to the local duck population. Ólafur noted that the terns at the downtown lake protected their nests with extreme fierceness, keeping all intruders at bay, giving the ducks and ducklings welcome cover.

Six different types of ducks nest at the lake each year. Most managed to bring more chicks to adulthood than in recent years. Five gadwall chicks made it to adulthood this year, compared to only one last year, 35 tufted ducks managed to adulthood, compared to 18 last year and 27 greater scaup, compared to 10 last year. The mallard did slightly worse this year than last, with 13 chicks making it, compared to 17 last year.

Only the eider was unsuccessful, with no eider chicks surviving the summer, compared to 17 last year.

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