Goose populations in Iceland have been growing steadily over the last decade, with some species reaching near-record numbers, despite the long goose-hunting season in the country, which began on Aug. 20, 2018.
“Goose populations in Iceland are counted in the autumn in the United Kingdom,” says animal ecologist Kristinn Haukur Skarphéðinsson at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, speaking to Vísir. “At last count, we estimate the pink-footed goose population to be about half a million and it’s grown significantly in recent years despite a good deal of hunting and other setbacks.”
Pink-footed geese traditionally nest in the highlands and in heaths, but they have begun to move closer to human settlements due to the increase in population.
Many of Iceland’s geese are migratory—they use Iceland as a stopover on the way between the British Isles and Greenland and Canada. This past August, a Brent goose nest was found in Iceland at an undisclosed location on the Bessastaðanes peninsula, where the Presidential Residence is located. The brent goose is typically a migratory bird, too, and the find of the nest with four eggs was the first of its kind in Iceland.
“The greylag goose population is smaller and more stable. According to our winter count it now numbers around 100,000 birds,” says Skarphéðinsson, while the greater white-fronted goose population has receded quite a bit in the last few decades despite its status as a protected bird. They currently number around 20,000.
Barnacle geese, meanwhile, are on the increase. “We believe there are around two thousand barnacle goose couples in Austur-Skaftafellssýsla county, which represents a tremendous increase,” says Skarphéðinsson.
Goose hunting season typically runs from the end of August—this year, Aug. 20—to mid-March (March 15, 2018), though it ends unofficially when the birds migrate to their final destinations in mid-to-late October. The brent goose and greater white-fronted goose are protected. It is illegal to shoot birds that haven’t learned to fly.