Sigurgeirs Bird Museum in Iceland

October 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

Surrounded by volcanic landforms and wetlands, Lake Mývatn, located near the Krafla volcano in the north of Iceland, is home to a wide range of birdlife, particularly waterfowl. Its rich biodiversity and intriguing geology continues to attract biologists, naturalists, geologists and bird watchers from around the world. It was in these beautiful surroundings that Sigurgeir Stefánsson was raised, and his love for birds became evident. The results of his life-long interest in birds can be viewed in the fascinating Sigurgeirs Bird Museum where his collection of more than 300 birds, representing around 180 species, is displayed.

Sigurgeir Stefánsson was born and raised on the Ytri-Neslönd farm, and spent his youth exploring his surroundings and collecting birds’ eggs. Soon he had specimens of all the indigenous Icelandic birds’ eggs, which he used to create a small natural history museum. At the age of 14 years, Stefánsson was given a bird that had been preserved by the process of taxidermy. This was the beginning of his bird collection, and any dead birds he, or his friends and neighbors found, were taken to the taxidermist for preservation.

Stefánsson’s collection grew until it had taken over his family’s house. It was later moved to a nearby shack and continued to grow, with other bird-lovers showing an interest in his work. While focusing on creating a complete collection of the birds of Iceland, Stefánsson also communicated and traded with ornithologists in other parts of the world, and his collection includes some exotic birds. He was often consulted by visiting researchers, as he had an intimate knowledge of the area and its feathered residents. He had expressed the desire to build a museum to properly display his collection for others to enjoy, but had no funds to make his dream a reality.

Tragically, in 1999 during a storm Stefánsson and his two companions drowned in Lake Mývatn as they attempted to repair an underwater cable – he was only 37 years old. To honor his memory and his accomplishments in the field of ornithology, the Aurora Charity Fund, together with members of his family, established the Sigurgeirs Bird Museum, which opened on 17 August 2008. In addition to viewing the extensive collection of birds on display in the museum, visitors can make use of the binoculars provided to spot local birds in the surroundings and on the lake, which is known for having the most species of duck to be found in one location.

Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The impressive Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) is the largest of all falcons. Its body measures roughly 60 cm in length and its wingspan may be as wide as 130 cm. The male is usually about one third smaller than the female and the bird may weigh between 2 to 4.5 pounds. The plumage of the Gyrfalcon varies quite considerably from white to almost black. Throughout history, this impressive bird has been highly sought after for falconry. Because of its size and rarity, it was often reserved only for those of noble birth and during the middle ages only the king had the right to possess one. The Gyrfalcon continues to be a popular bird for falconry today though modern falconers may keep their ownership of such a bird secret to avoid theft. Falconers generally refer to the male Gyrfalcon as a ‘jerkin’.

All variations of the Gyrfalcon are similar in size and have long, broad-based, pointed wings and a short, dark, hooked beak. The adult-grey morph has grey upperparts and white underparts with dark streaks. The flight feathers are pale and there is a thin moustache mark. The tail is grey with thin white bands. The adult-white morph has white plumage and a white tail with black barring on the back and wings. The adult-dark morph has dark brown upperparts and a dark tail. The underparts are heavily streaked and the flight feathers are noticeably paler than the lining on the wings.

The Gyrfalcon is circumpolar in nature and tends to nest in the arctic regions of North America, Europe, Asia, Iceland and Greenland, though they may be found elsewhere in the world when not breeding. They can live in either open, treeless plains or in swampy, forested areas and can be found near cliffs along shorelines, rivers or even in mountains. They usually nest in depressions on a protected ledge or cliff face and may even make use of an abandoned nest or a suitable man-made structure from time to time. When they nest, they generally lay 2 to 6 eggs that may take 34 to 36 days to hatch. Interestingly, they nest in arctic regions and often begin to lay their eggs in below-zero temperatures. Gyrfalcon‘s take about 2 to 3 years to become sexually mature. They generally feed on ptarmigan, grouse, seabirds, waterfowl, lemmings and ground squirrels, catching their prey either in the air or on the ground.