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Nobody has seen this before

The magpie on Bjørnøya by the memorial statue of a plane accident on the island in 1954. This is the first official sighting of a magpie on Svalbard. FOTO: Venke Ivarrud

Nobody has seen this before

A magpie photographed this week on Bjørnøya is the 213th bird species registered in Svalbard.

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The crew at Bjørnøya Meteorological Station received bird visits this week. Snow buntings are numerous and great tits – which started coming to Svalbard only a few years ago – are also on the bird feeder outside the station.

More special is a magpie at the station. That has never happened before.

'A bomb'

Georg Bangjord, an ornithologist and senior adviser at the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate, was informed about the observation this week.

"That's what ornithologists call a bomb," he said. "Magpies have never previously observed in Svalbard and will now be listed as the 213th bird species in the archipelago."

Great tits were first observed in the area five to six years ago, but they have not yet come as come as far north as Spitsbergen. Bangjord said he believes one of the reasons why great tits eventually came to Bjørnøya is the species' high population on the mainland.

"It may simply be that the species has become so numerous in northern Norway that it has been pressured to look for new habitats," he said.

A sly bird

Bangjord said the magpie's presence on Bjørnøya raises some questions.

"It is unclear how it has brought itself there," he said. "Magpies don't have the flying abilities to survive such a trip physically. So I think there must have been very special conditions for it to have a clear passage across the ocean on its own wings. Another possibility is that the magpie was pulled out of the sea and simply been a stowaway on a boat."

The magpie, which belongs to the crow family, is known to be wise and sly bird.

New every year

Climate change means ornithologists can potentially report new species every year in Svalbard.

"For example, we received meadow pipits, which was previously a very rare guest," Bangjord said. "Their nests are now in Svalbard. Lapland longspurs have also come in recent years."

The discoveries fit a pattern involving other species. Svalbardposten reported nearly two years ago the first sightings of mackerel in Adventfjorden. As a side effect, that has resulted in Northern gannets finding their way north to local latitudes.

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Se bildet større

Great tits have become numerous on Bjørnøya. The birds made their first appearance in the region five or six years ago. FOTO: Venke Ivarrud

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