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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").

The number of nests has increased since 1981, both in the immediate vicinity of Hálslón (Figures 1 and 3), by Jökla in Efra Jökuldalur and in Hnefilsdalur (Figure 2). This development indicates that the lack of nesting sites has hardly hindered the nesting of pink-footed goose. Fluctuation in the numbers of nests in the recent decade is mainly due to our spring cold spell and heavy snow. The year 2011 the spring came late with cold spell in the second half of May and the number of dests decreased by 62-64% in Vesturöræfi. In seasonal weather conditions like this, exploitation make a difference. Such decrease are well known in goose nests. Immediately next year, the pink-footed goose had recovered and even further in 2013, and the number of nests increased in accordance with the development at Hálslón and Vesturöræfi by 2011. In the spring of 2014-2016, snow was heavy again and egg-laying declined. In Kringilsárrani west of Hálslón (Figure 3), then number of nests increased form 400 in the year 2000 to over 2000 nests in the year 2017. In the spring of 2015 it was decided to direct monitoring of geese to the lower part of the valleys. The number of nests in Hnefilsdalur has been increasing since the observation of the nests began in 1981, but in Húsárdalur between 232-326 pairs of birds lay eggs (Figure 2). In the lower part of Jökuldalur, the number of nests doubled from 2008 to 2015. These results indicate that nesting has generally taken place before the spring cold and led to the movement of geese between areas. It seems that the nests in Hafrahvammar, in Laugavalla- and Sauðárdalur are full and maybe also in Hrafnkelsdalur and its side valley's (LV-2011-080 (Icelandic only)).

Figure 1. Results of counts of nests in the vicinity of Hálslón Reservoir, in Hafrahvammagljúfur and in Hrafnkelsdalur and its valleys (Glúmsstaðadalur and Þuríðarstaðadalur) 1981-2019.

According to counts of pink-footed goose nests in Vesturöræfi during the period 2008-2019, the average density of the nests per km² was between 9-37 nests. The different densities of nests seem to be mainly driven by the weather and snow layers.

Figure 2. Pink-footed goose nest. Photo obtained from the East Iceland Nature Research Center

Figure 2. Pink-footed goose nest. Photo obtained from the East Iceland Nature Research Center

Figure 3. Nesting ground development in the side valleys of Jökuldalur.

Mynd 4. Heiðagæsaungar

Figure 4. Pink-footed geese nestlings. Image obtained from the East Iceland Nature Research Center.

Figure 5. Results from detected data of singular modes on nests in Kringilsárrani the years 2000, 2008 and 2017.

Figure 6. Results from counting pink-footed goose nests in selected areas in Hnefilsdalur valley and part of Jökla at Steinshlaup-Merki farm 1981-2018.

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 (LV-2011-080 (Icelandic only)).

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

Moulting pink-footed geese were counted in Snæfellsöræfi wilderness, including Eyjabakkar area and by Hálslón reservoir, in 2008 and 2011. Flightless pink-footed geese in both Hálslón and Eyjabakkar area have been counted. In 2008, about 27% of pink-footed geese (2,121 birds) where moulted in Eyjabakkar area and 73% in Hálslón (5,790 birds). In 2011 the significance of Eyjabakkar area had increased and about half of all counted geese where there (5,035 birds) and the other half at Hálslón (5,075 birds).

Figure 7. Eyjabakki. Image obtained from the East Iceland Nature Research Center.

Figure 7. Eyjabakkar area. Image obtained from the East Iceland Nature Research Center.

There have been large fluctuations in the number of moulting geese in Eyjabakkar area since 1979, when an employee of the East Iceland Nature Research Center began observing those that have been utilized for inspection. After a large but volatile increase at the end of last century, their number decreased significantly from the year 2000 to 2008. Since then they have increased with some downsings. As an example the number of geese decreased slightly in 2013 compared to previous years and the number of nestling was unusually low compared to 2012. In 2014, the number of geese had increased again on Eyjabakkar area and there had not been more since 2002/03. Again the number of non-flying pink-footed geese decreased slightly in 2015 and increased in the summer of 2016 and 2017 and was then similar to the years 1990, 1992, 1997 and 2002 or close to ten thousand birds. In 2018 and 2019, the number of moulting geese decreased slightly (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Number of moulting geese on Eyjabakki 1979-2019 according to flight counts of Skarphéðins G. Þórissonar 1979-2004 og East Iceland Nature Research Center from 2005-2019.

The proportion of year-old pink-footed geese in the breeding groups indicates how the species was successful in the previous year (Figure 8). This proportion has been examined by alula examination in the Eyjabakkar area in the years 2009 to 2011 and again in the years 2015 to 2019 (Figure 9). The proportion of one year old gees has been fairly stable during this period, or on average around 29% (21-44%) highest in 2011 and lowest in 2019.

Figure 9. Pink-footed geese in wounds in Eyjabakkar area 2007-2019 and the proportion of 12-14 month old geese in the years 2009-2011 and 2015-2019. Blue bars indicate the years in which ratios were not examined. Nestlings from current year not included.

Updated: May 8, 2020
Source: East Iceland Nature Research Center (2020).

Metrics, Targets and Monitoring Protocol

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

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

Changes of indicator

This indicator was originally number 24.1. It was then named Pink-Footed Goose and can be found under that number in documents of the project from 2005 and 2006.

The indicator number has been changed twice.

Table 1. Changes to name and number of indicator.
Year Nr. Indicator name
2020 2.5.2 Pink-Footed Goose
2007 2.21 Pink-Footed Goose


he 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.

Table 2. Breeding sites for the pink-footed goose that were considered to disappear or be damaged because of the Kárahnjúkar project.
Sites # of preeding 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

Updated: April 2, 2012
East Iceland Nature Research Center

Rationale for Indicator Selection

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.

Updated: 2013

Original 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.

From phase I/II report on indicators and baseline from April 2005

Further reading

LV-2017/033 - Heiðagæsarannsóknir á vatnasviði Kárahnjúkavirkjunar árið 2016

LV-2017/033 - Heiðagæsarannsóknir á vatnasviði Kárahnjúkavirkjunar árið 2016

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

You can view more material related to the indicator by clicking on the link above.