Farmer Saves Oldest-Known Living Icelandic Sea Eagle

This white-tailed eagle in Norway is similar to the one that was found in Iceland. Christoph Müller/Wikimedia Commons

While out on a Saturday afternoon, a farmer in North Iceland noticed an eagle struggling along the banks of the Miðfjörður river. After watching the bird unsuccessfully try to fly, Þórarinn Rafnsson realized the bird was injured. He managed to toss his jacket over the bird while it was sitting in tall grass and then he took it home. There he fed the bird a much-appreciated dinner of wild salmon and lamb.

Not knowing how to care for the injured raptor, he contacted local police for advice. Police officers met Rafnsson at his home and, after consulting with experts at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, decided they'd take the eagle there to be cared for by their staff, reports Iceland Magazine.

Once experts examined the bird, they realized the farmer had made a remarkable discovery. The male bird is a sea eagle, also known as a white-tailed eagle, that was tagged in Breiðafjörður bay in 1993 as a young bird, making him 25 years old. Because the average lifespan of the sea eagle is 21 years with the oldest birds living to about 25 years old, this newly discovered eagle is likely one of the oldest alive today.

According to the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, sea eagles are one of Iceland's rarest birds. They used to be more common, until the late 19th century, when their numbers dramatically declined due to organized elimination efforts that drove the population to the brink of extinction.

Although sea eagles have been protected under Icelandic law since 1914, their numbers have been slow to recover. In 1964, when the practice of killing foxes with poison bait was banned, the sea eagles' population began to increase.

In spring 2006, 66 breeding pairs (not including juvenile birds) were counted. That's the largest eagle population recorded since the bird was declared a protected species, according to the institute.

The newly discovered feathered elder statesman is now with experts at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History in Reykjavík, who are caring for his injuries.

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