Common eider colony at Rif

he eider colony at Rif in Snæfellsbær is a study site for breeding ecology of common eider. Rif lies at the western tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, western Iceland. The colony was established by Smári J. Lúðvíksson and Sævar Friðþjófsson in 1972, and Smári collects eiderdown from the eider nests to this day.


rif-rokIn their 2013 publication in Ornis Fennica, Jón Einar Jónsson & Smári Lúðvíksson describe this area as follows: "A few low-lying, natural ponds are scattered over this lowland area which supports many bird species, most notably a large colony of arctic terns. Water levels in these ponds depends largely on winter precipitation. The studied Common Eider colony is comprised of two islands at one pond (2.35 ha in size, 0.5 km from the Atlantic shoreline; 64°55'14'' N; 23°49'23'' W).

Nesting of Common Eider at the study pond was formerly hindered by the lack of suitable nest sites until that year, although the pond previously was used by Common Eiders in spring but without nesting attempts. Common Eider is the only species nesting on the islands, except for the black-headed gull with 1-5 pairs annually. Despite the islands being originally man-made, the studied population is wild and free-ranging. The first ismariludvikssonsland (hereafter the rocky island) was 15 m2 1972-1975 but was increased to 120 m2 in 1987 by addition of more rocks. Another artificial island (hereafter grassy island) of 600 m2 was created in 1990, 40 m from the rocky island, when a grassy peninsula was turned into an island by a 9-10 m wide ditch, dug between the grass island and the mainland.

Smári (pictured) has counted all nests annually since 1972, and began banding common eider females in 1993. Females were caught with a noose pole, and were subsequently banded as adult breeders on nests. A total of 627 females were banded during 1993-2008. No ducklings or immature (1-2 years old) females were caught but data from Finland (Marti Hario et al.) inciates that 3-4% ducklings return as adults."

The collaboration with the Research Centre


Smári and his wife Auður Alexandersdóttir have helped a great deal with research since 2007. Þórður Örn Kristjánsson has done much of his PhD work there, and Jón Einar Jónsson and Smári have worked together on the banding data, as well as testing colored leg bands and nasal tags in 2011 and 2012.

Christine Chicoine did her BS thesis work in Rif in 2008. Her work included documenting the eider females behavior and their response towards disturbance - however, the females almost never reacted to traffic, bikers, or pedestrians, they just sat tight no matter what!

Pictured below are Þórður Örn Kristjánsson (right) and Grant Gilchrist of Environment Canada doing nest work in 2010.



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