About the project

Background

Flying Svalbard rock ptarmiganSvalbard rock ptarmigan.Image: Nicolas Lecomte

The Svalbard rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta hyperborea), is endemic in two High-Arctic archipelagos, Svalbard (74-81°N, 10-33ºE) and Franz Josef Land (80-82ºN, 45-65ºE). In Svalbard it is the only non-migratory terrestrial bird in the archipelago. Due to limited research on this sub-specie many ecological aspects of the Svalbard rock ptarmigan's biology remain unknown. No knowledge exists about their wintering areas and possible migration routes during the Arctic winter (October through March). Claims have been made that this species could perform long-range migration, a behaviour that can allow them to track seasonal shift in suitable feeding areas.

Although no quantitative information is available, it is known that Svalbard rock ptarmigans seem to use separate habitats during the winter- and breeding season. Flocks of migrating ptarmigans return to the breeding grounds in mid-March, cocks arrive first followed by hens in early April. Shortly after arrival the cocks establish a territory and the pair stays in the territory until after hatching of the brood. In September and October the ptarmigans gather in groups foraging under bird-cliffs or other areas with rich vegetation for a few weeks before they leave the area.

What happens later is currently still hidden in the dark of the Polar winter making systematic visual observations almost impossible. Anecdotic observations describe high altitude, directional flights in autumn resembling what normally characterise long-range migration behaviour. Some naturalists and overwintering hunters have even claimed that Svalbard rock ptarmigan migrate to Greenland, but if this is a regular behaviour it would be sensational considering the fact that the Svalbard rock ptarmigan is a bulky bird with a low “wing load” that seemingly is not built for long-distance migrations. Anyhow, the occurrence of true migrations distinct from more local seasonal habitat shifts of the Svalbard rock ptarmigan needs clarification. The only way to do this reliably and efficiently is to use satellite telemetry.

Researchers from the Norwegian Polar Institute and the University of Tromsø started a monitoring project on the Svalbard rock ptarmigan in 2000, which has since been running annually.

Goals of the project

The project intends to generate new knowledge about the winter ecology of one of the northernmost year round resident terrestrial birds in the world, the Svalbard rock ptarmigan.

Organisation

The project is led by the Norwegian Polar Institute, Eva Fuglei

Coordinators:

Norwegian Polar Institute: Eva Fuglei (eva.fuglei[at]npolar.no)
University of Tromsø: Åshild Ønvik Pedersen (ashild.pedersen[at]uit.no)

Project team:

Sigmund Unander (sigmund.unander[at]online.no)
Nicolas Lecomte (nicolas.lecomte[at]uit.no)
Rolf Anker Ims (rolf.ims[at]uit.no)
Åshild Ønvik Pedersen (ashild.pedersen[at]uit.no)
Eva Fuglei (eva.fuglei[at]npolar.no)
Magnus Andersen (magnus.andersen[at]npolar.no)
Hallvard Strøm (hallvard.strom[at]npolar.no)

Participating institutions:

Governor of Svalbard
Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund
Nansenfondet
Sparebanken Nord-Norges gavefond
Norwegian Polar Institute

Webpage/software:

Boele R. Kuipers, Norwegian Polar Institute
Paul-Inge Flakstad, Norwegian Polar Institute
Audun Igesund, Norwegian Polar Institute

Publications

Svalbard Rock ptarmiganSvalbard Rock ptarmigan.Image: Nicolas Lecomte
  • Fuglei E., Pedersen ÅØ. 2005. Svalbardrype (Lagopus muta hyperborea) – en jaktet art vi har lite økologisk kunnskap om. Fauna 58(4): 114-123.
  • Fuglei E. Svalbard rock ptarmigan. 2006. In: Birds and Mammals of Svalbard. Polarhåndbok No. 13, Norwegian Polar Institute. 114-116.
  • Fuglei, E. & Pedersen, ÅØ. 2008. Bestandsovervåking av Svalbardrype (Lagopus muta hyperborea). Registrering av territoriell stegg våren 2008. Sluttrapport til Svalbard Miljøvernfond. Norsk Polarinstitutt.
  • Løvenskiold, H.L. 1964. Avifauna Svalbardensis. With a discussion on the geographical distribution of the birds in Spitsbergen and adjacent islands. Norsk Polarinstitutt Skrifter. 129. s. 155-169.
  • Parker, H., Ottesen, H. & Knudsen, E. 1985. Age determination in Svalbard rock ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus hyperboreus). Polar Research 3: 125-126.
  • Pedersen, Å.Ø. 2001. Bestandsovervåking av svalbardrype (Lagopus mutus hyperboreus). Evaluering av takseringsmetoder og forslag til overvåking av territoriell stegg våren 2000. Feltrapport 1, Naturråd.
  • Pedersen, Å.Ø. 2002. Bestandsovervåking av svalbardrype (Lagopus mutus hyperboreus). Taksering av territoriell stegg våren 2001. Feltrapport 1, Naturråd.
  • Pedersen, Å.Ø. 2003. Bestandsovervåking av svalbardrype (Lagopus mutus hyperboreus). Taksering av territoriell stegg våren 2002. Feltrapport 1, Naturråd.
  • Pedersen, Å.Ø. 2004. Bestandsovervåking av svalbardrype (Lagopus mutus hyperboreus). Taksering av territoriell stegg våren 2003. Feltrapport 1, Naturråd.
  • Pedersen, Å. Ø. Overrein, Ø., Unander S. and Fuglei, E. 2005. Svalbard rock ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus hyperboreus): a status report. Rapportserie no. 125, Norwegian Polar Institute. Pp. 23.
  • Pedersen, Å.Ø. & Fuglei, E. 2005. Minirapport: Svalbardrype. Registrering av territoriell stegg våren 2004, aldersbestemming av rypevinger. Norsk Polarinstitutt, Tromsø, juni 2005.
  • Pedersen, Å.Ø. & Fuglei, E. 2006. Feltrapport: Overvåking av Svalbardrype 2005. Vårregistrering av territoriell stegg, aldersbestemming av rypevinger og jaktstatistikk. Norsk Polarinstitutt, Tromsø, mai 2006.
  • Pedersen ØÅ, Lier M, Routti H, Christiansen HH, Fuglei E. 2006. Co-feeding between Svalbard rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta hyperborea) and Svalbard reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus). Arctic 59(1): 61-64.
  • Pedersen, Å.Ø. & Fuglei, E. 2007. Feltrapport: Overvåking av Svalbardrype 2006. Vårregistrering av territoriell stegg, aldersbestemming av rypevinger og jaktstatistikk. Norsk Polarinstitutt, Tromsø, juni 2007.
  • Pedersen, ÅØ og Fuglei, E. 2007. Reinens beitegrop – viktig for Svalbardrypa i snørike vintre? Fauna 60(2): 81-85.
  • Pedersen, Å.Ø., Jepsen, J.U., Yoccoz, N. G., Fuglei, E. 2007. Ecological correlates on distribution of territorial Svalbard Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta hyperborea). Can. J. Zool. 85: 1-11.
  • Pedersen, Å.Ø. & Fuglei, E. 2008. Feltrapport: Overvåking av Svalbardrype 2007. Vårregistrering av territoriell stegg, aldersbestemming av rypevinger og jaktstatistikk. Norsk Polarinstitutt, Tromsø, juni 2008.
  • Steen, J.B. & Unander, S. 1985. Breeding biology of the Svalbard rock ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus hyperboreus). Ornis Scand. 16: 191-197.
  • Unander, S. & Steen, J.B. 1985. Behavior and social structure in Svalbard rock ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus hyperboreus). Ornis Scand. 16: 198-204.