2.21 Pink-Footed Goose

Indicator 2.21 - Pink-Footed Goose

heiðagæsahópurHere you can find information about the population of pink-footed goose in the impact area of Kárahnjúkavirkjun power plant.


a. Number of pink-footed goose pairs in selected sites at the basins of  Jökulsá á Dal and Jökulsá í Fljótsdal rivers.

The population of pink footed goose has increased rapidly for the last decades. This development has been very obvious at Fljótsdalshérað region and surrounding heaths. Hálslón Reservoir did not cause a reduction in the number of geese in spite of decreased grazing area and the fact that over 500 (531) nests disappeared (see table under "Baseline").

This development is shown in the following figures, on one hand from areas close to Hálslón reservoir (figure 1) and on the other hand areas by river Jökla (Jökulsá á Dal) in upper Jökuldalur valley and in Hnefilsdalur valley (figure 2). This development indicates that a shortage of nesting places hardly affects the pink footed goose. In 2011 number of nests in Vesturöræfi area decreased by 62-64% presumably because of cold spell in late May and exploiting. Such decrease is well known with nesting geese when similar conditions arise.  In 2012 the population of pink-footed goose had recovered and even more in 2013. Number of nests increased in accordance with the development noted before at Háls hill, Hálslón reservoir and Vesturöræfi wilderness. In the spring of 2014-2016 was snowy and similar trends as in 2011 were detected in the population of pink-footed goose. The summer 2017, the number of breeding pairs had almost tripled since 2013. A significant increase has also occurred in Kringingilsárrani (figure 2), were the number of nests went from 400 nests the year 2000 up to 2000 nests the year 2017. The spring 2015 was decision made to direct the monitoring to the lower parts of the valleys. Number of laying birds in Hnefilsdalur valley was similar to earlier observations (figure 3) but fewer birds were found in Húsárdalur valley than in 2010.  In Jökuldalur valley however, laying birds were twice as many as in 2008.  Aggregated results from all counting sites indicate that the spring cold spell had negative effect on laying success and prompted movement between areas. It seems like the nesting places in Hafrahvömmum, Laugavalladölum valley and Sauðárdölum valley is fully used and perhaps also in Hrafnkelsdalur and its side valleys. 

Results from counting pink-footed goose nests around Hálslón reservoir

Figure 1. Results from counting pink-footed goose nests around Hálslón reservoir 1981-2017.  

X-axes: Year (ár)  Y-axes: Number of nests (fjöldi hreiðra)

Results from detected data of singular modes on nests in Kringilsárrani

Figure 2: Results from detected data of singular modes on nests in Kringilsárrani the years 2000, 2008 and 2017.

Figure 2: Results from counting pink-footed goose nests in selected areas of Hnefilsdalur valley and Steinshlaup-Merki farm 1980 - 2015. X-axes: Year (ár); Y-axes: Number of nests (fjöldi hreiðra)                                        Figure 3: Results from counting pink-footed goose nests in selected areas in Hnefilsdalur valley and part of Jökla at Steinshlaup-Merki farm 1980 - 2015.  

X-axes:  Year (ár)  Y-axes:  Number of nests (fjöldi hreiðra)

In 2010 a review was made on the pink-footed geese in the highlands near Hálslón reservoir and Jökuldalur valley, and results from the baseline studies on the population in 2005 - 2008 (before the construction of the power plant) were analyzed (NA-110113 / LV-2011-080, only in Icelanic).

Source: Landsvirkjun 2018.
Updated:  August 20, 2018

b. Number of moulting geese in Eyjabakkar area and by Hálslón Reservoir.

Moulting pink-footed geese were counted in Snæfellsöræfi wilderness, including Eyjabakkar and by Hálslón reservoir, in 2008. Out of 7,911 birds, 2,121 were in the Eyjabakkar area and 5,790 by Hálslón reservoir and its vicinity. Goslings accounted for about 30% of these. In 2011, the counting was repeated in the same area and there turned out to be a total of 10,110 moulting pink footed geese (including Þorláksmýrar moor, with 98 birds), thereof 5,035 in Eyjabakkar. Goslings were 417, which is about 4%. Growing percentage of yearlings in moulting groups at Eyjabakkar (figure 4) was recorded in the period 2009-2011 and again in 2015; 28% (2009), 33% (2010), 44% (2011), 26% (2015), 29% (2016) and 28% (2017). The ratio of yearlings seems to indicate how successful breeding was in the previous year and the survival rate of goslings.

Figure 4. Number of moulting pink-footed geese at Eyjabakkar area 2007-2017 and ratio of yearlings 2009-2011, 2015-2017. The number of goslings is not included. 

Y-axes: Year (ár)  X-axes: Number of birds (fjöldi)

14 month old gray. -  >14 month old orange.

In 2013 number of geese at Eyjabakkar had slightly decreased compared to previous years and goslings were unusually few compared to 2012.  In 2014 the number of pink-footed geese had increased in Eyjabakkar area and had not been higher since 2002/03. The number of moulting pink-footed geese decreased slightly in Eyjabakkar area in 2015. The number in July 2016 and 2017 was comparable like in the years 1990, 1992, 1997 and 2002 or almost ten thousand birds (figure 5). 

Figure 5. Number of moulting pink-footed geese at Eyjabakkar area 1979 - 2017.

X- axes: Year (ár). Y-axes: Number (fjöldi).

Source: Landsvirkjun 2018.

Updated:  August 20, 2018

Monitoring Protocol

Metrics: What is measured?

  1. Number of breeding birds in selected sites in the river basins of Jökulsá á Dal and Jökulsá í Fljótsdal valley. (Project effect: indirect)
  2. Number of moulting geese at Snæfellsöræfi. (Project effect: indirect)

Monitoring Protocol

  1. Counting of nests (number of pink-footed goose pairs in selected nesting sites):  Annual count in areas near Hálslón reservoir, that is Háls hill and Vesturöræfi wilderness.  For comparison counting will be performed alternately in different areas that is in Hrafnkelsdalur valley and areas below Jökuldalur valley.

  2. Counting of birds (moulting pink footed geese):  Annual bird counting of moulting pink-footed geese will continue at Eyjabakkar and Hálslón areas, but some years will be between counting in other ateas of Snæfellsöræfi.


  1. The number of breeding birds will not decrease more than 600 pairs.
  2. The number of geese in moulting in Snaefellsoraefi will not decrease from baseline information collected in 2005.

Changes to indicator and metrics

In forth phase of the initiative the numbers of the indicators were changed.  This indicator war originally number 24.1 and is referenced as such in earlier documents of the project.


The number of pink footed goose breeding pairs in East Iceland almost quadrupled in the period from 1980 to 2000. This increase has been similar proportionally to the total increase in the Icelandic-Greenlandic stock.

In 1981, 2,000 pairs were estimated to nest in the area, 4,000 pairs in 1988 and 7,300 pairs in the year 2000. These numbers account for roughly 15-20 percent of the breeding pairs of the Icelandic-Greenlandic stock. The Icelandic-Greenlandic stock accounts for 85 percent of pink footed geese in the world.

In 2005, almost 50 percent of all breeding pairs in East Iceland (3,300 pairs) nested in 40 sites located in the river basins of Jökulsá á Dal river. The largest sites were in Kringilsárrani (300-400 pairs), along the river upstream of Sandfell mountain (i.e. the area that was inundated by Hálslón reservoir, 330 pairs), in Hafrahvammagljúfur gorge (206), between Hölkná river and Merki farm  (435), by Hnefla river (407) and in Glúmsstadadal valley (293).  The largest site at the river basin of Jökulsá í Fljótsdal is located between Kleif farm and Laugará river (96 pairs).

In some breeding sites in the river basin of Jökulsá á Dal the number of nests had remained stable for 20 years before the dam was built or grown very slowly (by less than 3 percent per year). In other sites however, the number had grown rapidly, even up to 10-15 percent per year. Overall, the breeding stock of the pink-footed goose in East Iceland has been growing at a similar rate as the Icelandic-Greenlandic stock that showed high growth rates from 1980 to 1995.

The table below shows breeding sites for the pink-footed goose that were considered to disappear or be damaged because of the Kárahnjúkar project.

Sites # of breeding pairs Nests that disappear
Sauðá river, Vesturöræfi wilderness
96 66
Kringilsárrani 300 50
Jokulsá river, upstream of Sandfell mountain
330 330
Sauðá river, Brúardölum valleys
50 40
Jökulsá river downstream of Eyjabakkar 5 5
Glúmsstaðadalur, valley
193 40
TOTAL 994 531

Source: IINH

Rationale for Indicator Selection

The Kárahnjúkar project is believed to affect the pink-footed goose considerably.

The impact will be both temporary, due to construction activity and long term. Firstly, some breeding sites and grazing land were inundated by Hálslón Reservoir. Secondly, more traffic in the area during construction, and because of better access to the area, can disturb the birds.

In 2000, a total of 2,200 pairs of pink-footed geese nested within the impact area of the dam. Nesting sites for a total of 500 to 600 breeding pairs were inundated by Hálslón reservoir, which amounted to about one-third of all nests in Brúardalir valleys and Vesturöræfi wilderness (including tributary valleys of Hrafnkelsdalur valley). This corresponds to seven percent of breeding pairs in East Iceland, and 1-2 percent of the total number of breeding pairs in the Icelandic-Greenlandic stock. 

The land submerged to make Hálslón reservoir is considered an internationally important breeding site for the pink-footed goose according to criteria in the Ramsar Convention and the International Bird Committee.  Grazing land for pink-footed goose has been interrupted and increased traffic during and after construction has negative effect on living conditions for geese in the area.

Neither Hálslón reservoir nor other smaller reservoirs of Kárahnjúkavirkjun power plant are likely to influence moulting sites for the pink footed goose.

New rationale: The experience from monitoring breeding population has until now shown constant increase and colonization of new areas. The monitoring has taken this development into account, so as to repeat some counts annually (areas in the vicinity of Hálslón reservoir) while other areas are monitored alternately.

The dispersal of sterile birds in the moult is far more complicated. Data exists from Eyjabakkar from several decades and occasional counts from other areas. With the emergence of Hálslón reservoir, conditions for moulting geese emerged alongside the reservoir. Counting of geese around Hálslón reservoir have recently begun and are conducted concurrently with counting at Eyjabakkar area.

Further reading

Reports on pink-footed goose published by Landsvirkjun and East Iceland Nature Research Centre (Only in Icelandic)

Heiðagæsarannsóknir á vatnasviði Kárahnjúkavirkjunar árið 2017.Árið 2016 kannaði Náttúrustaofa Austurlands heiðagæsavarp á völdum svæðum fyrir Landsvirkjun sem er liður í vöktun fugla á vatnasviði Kárahnjúkavirkjunar. Í úttektinni voru vörpin í Hafrahvömmum, í Laugarvalladal og Sauðárdal auk varps á Vesturöræfum norðan Sauðár skoðuð. Tíðarfar og snjóalög settu mark sitt á varpið sem hófst óvenju seint og færri varppör reyndu fyrir sér sökum þess sem kom fram sem fækkun miðað við síðustu mælingar. Varpárangur var engu að síður ágætur. Að meðaltali voru 3,7 egg í hreiðri og 2,4 ungar fylgdu hverju pari. Tilraunir með flygildi í varprannsóknum lofuðu góðu sem stofan stefnir á að beita í ríkari mæli í framtíðinni.  Veruleg aukning varð á fjölda ófleygra heiðagæsa á Snæfellsöræfum í júlí og og voru tæpar 10.000 heiðagæsir á Eyjabakkasvæðinu, þ.a. 710 ungar sem er það mesta sem hefur verið talið á svæðinu til þessa. Síðast voru taldar álíka margar heiðagæsir þar árið 2002. Hlutfall ársgamalla heiðagæsa á Eyjabakkasvæðinu var 29% og hefur fjöldi þeirra ekki verið meiri síðan mælingar hófust.
Landsvirkjun's report no:  LV-2017-033 
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Náttúrustofa Austurlands gerði úttekt á heiðagæsavarp á ytri hluta Jökuldals og í Hnefilsdal og Húsárdal fyrir Landsvirkjun árið 2015 og taldi ófleygar gæsir á hluta Snæfellsöræfa. Varpið jókst verulega á Jökuldal og lítillega í Hnefilsdal frá síðustu mælingum en fækkaði í Húsárdal. Mögulega má rekja hluta aukningarinnar í varpi til tilfærslu vegna snjóalaga en í hálendinu voraði seint að þessu sinni. Að meðaltali voru 3,3 egg í hreiðri og 3,2 ungar með hverju pari. Víðast hvar fækkaði ófleygum heiðagæsum á þeim hluta Snæfellsöræfa sem árlega er kannaður. Hlutfall unga af töldum gæsum í júlí var lágt eða 8% og jókst lítillega frá árinu áður þegar það var um 6%. Samkvæmt skoðun á hlutfalli ársgamalla heiðagæsa í felli á Eyjabakkasvæðinu þá reyndust þeir vera 26% af heildinni sem er heldur minna en í mælingu frá árinu 2011.

Heiðagæsir í varpi og felli á áhrifasvæði Kárahnjúkavirkjunar árið 2015.

Landsvirkjun's report no:  LV-2016-059

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Heiðagæsir á vatnasviði Kárahnjúkavirkjunar árið 2014
Landsvirkjun's report no:  LV-2015-068

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Heiðagæsavarp á Vesturöræfum var þéttleikamælt með sniðtalningum í sumarbyrjun árið 2013. Áframhaldandi vöxtur virðist vera í varpinu sem er í samræmi við mælingar síðustu ára að undanskildu árinu 2011 þegar það misfórst að verulegu leyti sökum tíðarfars. Varpið var um hálfum mánuði síðar á ferðinni vegna snjóalaga á rannsóknasvæðinu miðað við vörp lægra staðsett í landinu. Varpárangur reyndist í ágætu lagi þar sem meðaleggjafjöldi var 3,3 egg í hreiðri og þéttleiki hreiðra reyndist vera 37 á hverjum km². Að jafnaði  voru 2,3 ungar með hverju pari í júlí þegar flogið var yfir hluta Snæfellsöræfa í talningum á ófleygum heiðagæsum. Ófleygum heiðagæsum fækkaði annað árið í röð á Eyjabakkasvæðinu og innan við 500 heiðagæsir voru taldar við Hálslón í júlí 2013. Fjölskyldufuglar komu lítið fram í rannsóknarfluginu sem getur hafa stafað af síðbúnu varpi.Heiðagæsaathuganir á Snæfellsöræfum 2013.
Landsvirkjun's report no:  LV-2014-030  

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Náttúrustofa Austurlands rannsakaði heiðagæsavarpið á Vesturöræfum með sniðtalningum vorið 2012 og ófleygar gæsir voru taldar í júlí á Snæfellsöræfum. Heiðagæsavarp gekk vel á Vesturöræfum og voru 3,4 egg að jafnaði í hreiðri. Þéttleiki hreiðra reyndist vera 32 hreiður á km2. Varpið hefur aukist frá árinu 2010. Meðalungafjöldi með pari var 2,2 á Snæfellöræfum í júlí. Heiðagæsar á Eyjabökkum voru aðeins færri í júlí 2012 en árið áður og á Hálslóni voru um 1500 heiðagæsir.Heiðagæsaathuganir á Snæfellsöræfum 2012.
Landsvirkjun's report no:  LV-2013-047 

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Vöktun heiðagæsa á vatnasviði Kárahnjúkavirkjunar var fram haldið sumarið 2011. Náttúrustofa Austurlands rannsakaði varpið á Snæfellsöræfum með sniðtalningum og ófleygar gæsir voru taldar í júlí. Ungafjöldi með pörum var skoðaður yfir sumarið. Sökum óhagstæðs tíðarfars var ekki hægt að taka út varpið á austanverðum Vesturöræfum né í Kringilsárrana eins og til stóð. Frá árinu 2000 hefur heiðagæsum fjölgað mikið á Austurlandi sem er í samræmi við vöxt í stofninum og fellihópar geldra heiðagæsa á Eyjabökkum sýna nú vöxt eftir lágmark árið 2008. Árið 2011 hrundi varp heiðagæsa á Vesturöræfum sem rekja má að stærstum hluta til hretsins síðari hluta maí og eggjatöku. Fækkunin nam 62-64% hreiðra. Slík afföll eru vel þekkt í gæsavörpum þegar sambærilegar aðstæður skapast. Víða fór heiðagæsavarp illa út úr hretinu Austanlands m.a. á Jökuldal og í Hvannalindum. Litlar breytingar hafa orðið á varpi austan við Snæfell. Afföll urðu einnig á fullorðnum heiðagæsum. Hræ voru send í krufningu sem reyndust óvenju mögur. Víða fundust ræflar af dauðum heiðagæsum í Norðausturhálendinu um sumarið.

Vöktun heiðagæsa á Snæfellsöræfum 2011,  Áhrif Kárahnjúkavirkjunar á heiðagæsir.
East Iceland Nature Research Centre's report no:  NA-120122 

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Náttúrustofa Austurlands rannsakaði í samráði við Náttúrufræðistofnun Íslands varp heiðagæsa á vatnasviði Kárahnjúkavirkjunar sumarið 2010 fyrir Landsvirkjun. Náttúrufræðistofnun Íslands sá um vöktun heiðagæsa á svæðinu frá 2005-2008. Hér verða þessar rannsóknir krufðar. Rannsóknirnar voru byggðar á hreiðurtalningum í heiðagæsavörpum með Jökulsá á Dal og þverám hennar og á Vesturöræfum auk talninga á heiðagæsum í sárum á Austurlandshálendinu. Niðurstöður umhverfismats Kárahnjúkavirkjunar árið 2000 voru hafðar til hliðsjónar. Stiklað er á helstu rannsóknum sem gerðar hafa verið á svæðinu frá 2000 til 2010 og spáð í eldri talningar. Heiðagæsavarp hefur aukist á vatnasviði Kárahnjúkavirkjunar frá 2000. Það á jafnt við um næsta nágrenni Hálslóns sem og önnur vörp. Þróun varpsins er skoðað frá 1981 til 2010 í völdum vörpum. Á tímabilinu frá 2000 til 2010 hefur heiðagæsastofninn vaxið en stærsti fellihópur geldra heiðagæsa á Eyjabökkum hefur rýrnað í öfugu hlutfalli við vöxt í varpi. Náttúrustofa Austurlands telur æskilegt að áfram verði fylgst með þróun mála í heiðagæsavarpi á vatnasviði Kárahnjúkavirkjunar.

Vöktun heiðagæsa á vatnasviði Jökulsár á Dal og Jökulsár í Fljótsdal 2005-2010, Áhrif Kárahnjúkavirkjunar á heiðagæsir.
East Iceland Nature Research Centre's report no:  NA-110113

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Updated:  August 20, 2018