White-tailed eagle monitoring
White-tailed eagles are among Iceland's rarest breeding birds. Eagles were once much more common in Iceland, with nests across the country. The late 19th century saw a dramatic decline in the number of breeding pairs due to organised persecution efforts that drove Iceland's white-tailed eagle population to the brink of extinction, with the few remaining eagle nests found in the west of Iceland. The white-tailed eagle has been strictly protected under Icelandic law since 1914. Despite this, the eagle population has been slow to recover, although their numbers have gradually begun to increase again after the practice of leaving out poison for foxes was banned in 1964 (see graph).
The white-tailed eagle has been closely monitored for many decades. The growth and development of Iceland's eagle population is better known than that of any other bird species in Iceland. The goal of monitoring is to track changes in the population size and its viability and distribution. Breeding pairs are counted in early spring, and breeding success is then evaluated around midsummer. In spring 2006, a full 66 breeding pairs were counted – a figure that does not include juvenile birds. The eagle population has not been this large since it was declared a protected species. Eagles still occupy only a third of known eyries, and their distribution remains largely limited to the western part of Iceland. Even so, Iceland's white-tailed eagle population is in a better position now than it has been for almost a century.
The white-tailed eagle nests in Iceland, Greenland and in scattered areas across Europe and Asia. Eagles became extinct in much of Europe as a result of direct persecution, pollution and habitat destruction. Eagle populations in Northern Europe have slowly been growing over the last several decades, however, thanks to systematic conservation efforts. They remain a protected species and are on Red Lists of endangered species throughout the region where they live. Eagles are long-lived birds, some living to be as old as 35. The oldest known eagle in Iceland was 18 years old.
IINH Contact: Kristinn H. Skarphéðinsson