Fauna of the Faroe Islands

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The Faroese Starling
The White-speckled Raven a colour variation of the faroese sub-species (Corvus corax varius) was unique to the Faroe Islands. The last one was seen in 1949.

The fauna of the Faroe Islands is characterized by the islands' remote location in the North Atlantic Ocean, the terrestrial fauna is poor in species, but includes relatively many breeding sea birds, and marine animals. Some sub-species and breeds are endemic. All land mammals were introduced by man.


See also: Birds of the Faroe Islands

The bird fauna of the Faroes is dominated by Sea-birds and birds attracted to open land like Heather, probably due to the lack of woodland and other suited habitats. Many species have developed special Faroese races: Eider, Starling, Wren, Guillemot, and Black Guillemot. ).[1] Puffins (Fratercula Arctica), Razorbills (Alca torda), and Guillemots (Uria aalge), are very common Sea-birds in Faroe. Gannets (Sula sula) are common around the islands, but only breed on Mykines. Black Guillemots (Cepphus grylle), Eiders (Somateria mollissima) and Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) are common around the coast and the Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) who immigrated to the islands in the 19´th century are a steadily growing population. There are 6 species of Seagulls (Larus) and the Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus) colony on Nólsoy is the largest in the world. The Faroese Starling (Sturnus vulgaris faroeensis) is an endemic Faroese subspecies, the largest Starling in the world. It stays on the islands year-round, and thrives in and around human habitation.

Inland birds are fewer in numbers, Oyster catcher (Haematopus ostralegus) (the National Bird), Curlew (Numenius), Common Snipe (Capella gallinago) and Tern (Sterna) are common on the Heather hills. The faroese Starling is a sub-species (Sturnus vulgaris faroeensis) the biggest Starling in the world, and is very common in and around human habitation together with the Sparrow (Passer). In later years they have been joined by Blackbirds (Turdus merula) which is growing very fast in numbers. Crows (Corvus cornix) and the faroese-Icelandic subspecies of Raven (Corvus corax varius) are also very common around human habitation. Until the 19th century a special coloured Raven, the Pied Raven was common on the islands. This was not a special race, but a colour variation of the Faroese-Icelandic sub-species. In the same nest, 3 youngsters could be black while 1 could be white-speckled. This colour variation was unique to the Faroe Islands, and maybe because of this, the demand from foreign collectors was big for these ravens, and this might be a reason why it became extinct. The last white-speckled Raven was seen on Nólsoy in 1949.

Land Mammals[edit]

Faroese Mountain Hare Lepus timidus.

The land mammals of Faroe have all been introduced, accidentally or deliberately by man. Although 9 Species of wild land mammals have been reported on the Faroe Islands, only 3 have survived and are thriving on the islands today: Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus), Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) and the House Mouse (Mus domesticus).

The Mountain Hares were introduced from Kragerø in Norway in 1854. The first years, some of the Hares developed a white coat in winter, like their ancestors from Norway, but after a few decades, due to the oceanic climate with its lack of snow cover, the Faroese Hares had adopted common traits with the Irish Hares (Lepus timidus hibernicus) staying brown all year.

The faroese House Mouse was probably introduced accidentally from Britain by the irish monks as early as in the 6th century. It is the Western European House Mouse (Mus domesticus) but has earlier been labelled as Mus musculus. This naming has also been used to name the sub-species which have evolved in the isolated island populations. The Nólsoy House Mouse is a sub-species called (Mus musculus faroeensis) and the Mykines House Mouse is also a sub-species called (Mus musculus mykinessiensis). However, a recent study,[2] based on DNA-analyses, has shown that mice on the most remote islands (Hesti, Fugloy, Mykines and Nólsoy) are characterized as M. m. domesticus, whereas the mice on the better connected islands (Sandoy and in Torshavn) are mixed and have both M. m. musculus and M. m. domesticus genetic elements. Furthermore, the investigation indicated that the majority of the mice have their origins in south-western Norway, in agreement with human historical data, while the mice on the island of Sandoy may have arrived from the British Isles or from Denmark. The M. m. musculus genetic component appears to derive from recent immigrant mice from Denmark.Wood Mouse or Field Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) was recorded on the Faroe Islands in the 17th century, but has not been recorded since. These recordings might have been of House mice mistaken for Wood mice.

The Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) is common in and around human habitations as well as in the outfield, namely doing big damage in bird colonies. It reached the Faroe Islands on a shipwreck which drifted from Shetland to Faroe in the 18´th century. The Brown Rat replaced the former Black Rat (Rattus rattus) which was common in human habitation in Faroe prior to the arrival of the Brown Rat.

Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) were introduced to Suðuroy in the beginning of the 20th century. They soon spread throughout the island, but after a few years, they were exterminated. Rabbits also established colonies in the extreme south of Eysturoy (Eystnes) in the 1960s and 1970s, but they were also exterminated. In 2006 reports were of Rabbits establishing colonies on Streymoy.

American Mink (Mustela vison) have escaped from farms on several occasions, but were caught or shot most of the time, and never managed to establish a stock in the wild. Arctic Foxes (Alopex lagopus) also escaped from farms now and then in the first half of the 20´th century. These were individuals, who survived for months in the wild until they were found and shot. Without mates though, they were unable to multiply.

In the beginning of the 20´th century, a few Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) were introduced to Tórshavn, but too few in numbers, to establish a population.

Bats are infrequent guests to Faroe, and usually die soon after arrival.

Apart from the local domestic sheep breed called Faroes, the Lítla Dímun sheep, a variety of feral sheep survived on Little Dímun until the mid-19th century.[3] There is also a local breed of horse, the Faroe pony.

Marine Mammals[edit]

See also Whaling in the Faroe Islands

A Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus, on the beach in Sandvík 2004.

Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus) are very common around the Faroese shores.

Several species of Whales live in the waters around the Faroe Islands. Best known are the Long-Finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala melas). but the more exotic Killer whales (Orcinus orca) sometimes visit the faroese fjords, and this can lead to a somewhat dangerous encounter if you are in a small boat.


Naturally, there were no Amphibians found in the Faroe Islands. But recently Frogs (Rana temporaria) have been introduced to Faroe, and are breeding successfully on Nólsoy.

One finding of a young Toad (Bufo bufo) hibernating on Eysturoy has been recorded in 2006. Most likely a lost pet.

Insects and other invertebrates[edit]

Faroese Grass Rivulet Perizoma albulata.

Flies, Moths, Spiders, Beetles, Slugs, Snails, Earthworms and other small Invertebrates are part of the indigenous fauna of the Faroe Islands.

More recent introductions are the New Zealand flatworm, the Spanish slug, and the Common Wasp which all have become part of the natural fauna.

Cockroaches, Black garden ants, Pharaoh ants and Burgundy snails have also been found, but it's not clear if they have become part of the established fauna.


  1. ^ [1] The Faroese Fauna.
  2. ^ Jones EP, Jensen JK, Magnussen E, Gregersen N, Hansen HS, Searle JB (2011): A molecular characterization of the charismatic Faroe house mouse. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 102:471-482.[2]
  3. ^ Ryder, M. L. (1981). "A survey of European primitive breeds of sheep". Genetics Selection Evolution 13 (4): 381. doi:10.1186/1297-9686-13-4-381.  edit

Further reading[edit]

  • Klitgaard, A. B. (1995). "The Fauna Associated with Outer Shelf and Upper Slope Sponges (Porifera, Demospongiae) at the Faroe Islands, Northeastern Atlantic". Sarsia 80 (1): 1. 

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