Greenland White-fronted Goose
Anser albifrons flavirostris
Greenland White-fronted Geese breed in the coastal fringe of west Greenland and winter exclusively in Ireland and Britain. The largest numbers are found in County Wexford, Republic of Ireland, and on Islay, Scotland. The rest of the population is mainly concentrated at regular wintering haunts across western Scotland and northwestern and western Ireland.
Greenland White-fronted Geese are declining and the highest conservation concern among the UK’s geese. An AEWA Action Plan has been prepared to focus and prioritise conservation actions.
Global status (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species)
African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA)
European status (European Red List of Birds)
The Birds Directive (European Commission)
UK status (Birds of Conservation Concern)
UK quarry species (Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981)
* assessed at species level Anser albifrons
Least Concern (Europe and EU27)*
huntable in England and Wales during the open season
† Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons is listed as ‘Least Concern’ by IUCN. The Red List assessment of sub-species is not routinely undertaken, however, an assessment of Greenland White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons flavirostris has been undertaken (Boertmann 2007); the sub-species was evaluated as ‘Endangered’
Flyway population size (CSR 6; Wetlands International 2015)
GB estimate (Musgrove et al. 2011)
Irish estimate (Crowe & Holt. 2013)
GB trend (SUKB 2017)
Long-term trend (1989/90 – 2014/15): 31% decrease
Ten-year trend (2004/05 – 2014/15): 35% decrease
Variable (generally 10-20%), low since 1999
Annual estimates of the population size of Greenland White-fronted Goose in Britain and Ireland, spring 2003-2017 (Fox et al. 2017).
Spring Estimate of population size 2017 20,556 2016 18,879 2015 18,854 2014 20,797 2013 22,156 2012 22,403 2011 25,765 2010 22,844 2009 23,162 2008 23,208 2007 25,168 2006 24,895 2005 23,842 2004 28,696 2003 29,473
Annual estimates of the proportion of young (%) and mean brood size (young per successful pair) of Greenland White-fronted Goose in Britain and Ireland, 2002/03 – 2016/17 (Fox et al. 2017).
Britain Ireland Season Proportion of young (%) Mean brood size Proportion of young (%) Mean brood size 2016/17 16.5 2.78 12.5 3.04 2015/16 15.5 2.96 6.0 2.61 2014/15 12.9 2.73 6.1 2.59 2013/14 14.2 2.88 6.9 2.88 2012/13 9.6 2.94 5.0 2.63 2011/12 8.8 2.93 7.6 2.62 2010/11 21.2 3.37 14.4 3.27 2009/10 12.9 3.10 9.2 3.1 2008/09 10.7 2.79 10.2 3.27 2007/08 9.7 3.00 9.5 – 2006/07 10.2 3.36 – – 2005/06 8.6 3.08 – – 2004/05 7.84 3.30 – – 2003/04 7.55 3.14 – – 2002/03 9.9 3.20 – –
Crowe, O. & C. Holt. 2013. Estimates of waterbird numbers wintering in Ireland, 2006/07-2010/11. Irish Birds 9: 545-552. Download
Fox, A.D., I. Francis, D. Norriss & A. Walsh. 2017. Report of the 2016/2017 International Census of Greenland White-fronted Geese. Greenland White-fronted Goose Study / National Parks & Wildlife Service report, Kalo. Download
Musgrove, A.J., G.E. Austin, R.D. Hearn, C.A. Holt, D.A. Stroud & S.R. Wotton. 2011. Overwinter population estimates of British waterbirds. British Birds 104: 364-397. Download
Greenland White-fronted Geese breed in the coastal fringe of west Greenland. They migrate south through south and west Iceland during September and October to winter exclusively in Ireland and Britain (Fox et al. 1994).
Flyway of the Greenland White-fronted Goose
Throughout its wintering range it is associated with a landscape characterised by peatlands and low intensity agricultural land. Wintering areas are often remote and flocks can be small and difficult to locate. The present winter range has not changed markedly over recent decades. It is distinctive in being concentrated in the northern and western fringes of Britain and Ireland (Fox et al. 1994). Two thirds of the Scottish population occur on Islay, the remaining located at 33 regularly used sites, mostly in western Scotland, with Tiree, Coll, Rhunahaorine and Machrihanish supporting the largest numbers. Throughout the period of expansion (principally the late 1980s and 1990s), numbers in Ireland underwent slower growth than the rest of the range. The underlying trend has been a gradual contraction of range, and reduction in flock size, with at least five extinctions known to have occurred since the early 1980s. Two thirds of the Irish population occur at Wexford Slobs, the remainder winter in smaller flocks over approximately 30 sites throughout the west and north of Ireland. Thirteen of these sites have shown decreases in numbers and trends are strongly related to range size, particularly the number and size of feeding sites (Fox et al. 1999).
Traditional feeding occurred on bogland habitats but in recent years geese have increasingly used intensively managed grassland, especially in the most important wintering areas of Wexford and Islay. Some waste root crops and spilt grain from stubble fields are also taken in autumn. Several flocks have retained bogland roost sites where traditional feeding may still occur at night. Goose management schemes were initiated in 1992/93 by SNH to alleviate the conflict that had arisen due to damage to agricultural crops through goose grazing (Fox et al. 1999).
Since the peak in the late 1990s, the Greenland Whitefront population has gradually declined. Reproductive success has been consistently poor meaning the percentage of young produced each year is too low to replace annual losses. Though reasons for this are speculative, it is thought competition with Canada Geese at breeding sites in Greenland and increasingly late arrivals of spring weather are contributing factors. In response to the change in status, the Icelandic Government announced a ban on hunting of White-fronted Geese in Iceland in autumn 2006. Up until that point, shooting mortality accounted for some 3,500 geese per year.
Fox, A.D., D.W. Norriss, D.A. Stroud & H.J. Wilson. 1994. Greenland White-fronted Geese in Ireland and Britain 1982/83 – 1993/94. Greenland White-fronted Goose Study Research Report No. 8.
Fox, A.D., D.W. Norriss, H.J. Wilson, O.J. Merne, D.A. Stroud, A. Sigfusson & C. Glahder. 1999. Greenland White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons flavirostris. In: Madsen, J., G. Cracknell & A.D. Fox (eds.). 1999. Goose populations of the Western Palearctic. A review of status and distribution. Wetlands International Publication no. 48, Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands/National Environmental Research Institute, Ronde, Denmark.
Greenland White-fronted Goose Census
Counts of Greenland White-fronted Geese are carried out through the Greenland White-fronted Goose Census, which is organised by the Greenland White-fronted Goose Study. The counts are conducted across the wintering range and involve two counts; one in autumn and one in spring. The census also involves making age assessments of the flocks, during which counters record the number of young present as well as brood sizes (i.e. the size of family groups). These assessments provide information about the breeding success of the population.
Find out more about the Greenland White-fronted Goose Census.
Results for 2016/17 [added November 2017]
Coordinated counts of the Greenland White-fronted Goose population in Britain and Ireland were carried out in autumn 2016 and spring 2017, representing the 35th annual census. The counts were organised by the Greenland White-fronted Goose Study in Britain and by the National Parks & Wildlife Service in Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Combining the results from the spring 2017 coordinated counts in Britain and Ireland gives a population estimate of 20,556, an increase of 8.9% compared with spring 2016 (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Annual population estimates of Greenland White-fronted Geese, spring 1983–2017 (filled circles) (from Fox et al. 2017). The five-year running mean (e.g. mean for 2008 is from population estimates for 2006–10) is shown as a red line. The open circles indicate estimated values for years when data were missing from Ireland. The open triangle indicates the estimated value for 2001 when data were missing due to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease that year.
All wintering resorts in Britain (except for the Small Isles where there no longer seem to be regularly wintering geese) were covered at least once during the 2016/17 season. For any sites not covered during the census period, counts were substituted with those undertaken close to the defined dates: amounting 3.8% of the autumn total and 3.0% of the spring total.
Overall, totals of 10,326 and 11,597 Greenland White-fronted Geese were recorded in autumn 2016 and spring 2017, respectively (Table 1). This represents an increase of 10.0% compared with autumn 2015 and an increase of 12.7% compared with spring 2016 (Figure 2). During the autumn census, over half of the birds were recorded on Islay, which held 5,585, 20.3% higher than in autumn 2015.The majority of the rest of the birds (4,715) were seen elsewhere in Scotland, with one also reported in England and 25 in Wales. Similarly, during the spring census, more than half the geese were seen on Islay, with a total of 6,141 recorded there (18.5% higher than in spring 2016). Scotland supported the rest of the birds (5,420), with the exception of the 36 recorded in Wales.
Figure 2. Coordinated count totals of Greenland White-fronted Geese in Britain, 1982/83–2016/17, showing autumn (open triangles) and spring (filled squares) census results for each season. Note the missing value for spring 2001 (unfilled square) due to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease that year (from Fox et al. 2017).
Count coverage in Ireland was reasonably good, with most of the known flocks counted at least once over the course of the winter. Counts for nine sites were substituted for the autumn 2016 census, representing 4.2% of the autumn total, whilst counts for 15 sites were substituted for the spring 2017 census, representing 18.3% of the season’s total.
Overall, totals of 8,880 and 8,959 Greenland Whitefronts were recorded in autumn 2016 and spring 2017 respectively (Table 1). This represents a 4.3% and 9.7% increase compared with the autumn 2015 and spring 2016 censuses, respectively (Figure 3). During both censuses, the majority of geese were recorded at Wexford, with 6,977 seen there during autumn (18.1% higher than in 2015) and 7,047 in spring (9.7% higher than in 2016).
Figure 3. Coordinated count totals of Greenland White-fronted Geese in Ireland, 2008/09–2016/17, showing autumn (open triangles) and spring (filled squares) census results for each season (from Fox et al. 2017).
Region Autumn Census Spring Census Orkney 78 73 Caithness 259 260 Western Isles 184 218 Inner Hebrides 27 29 Lochaber/North Argyll 1,159 1,479 South Argyll 2,726 2,984 Islay 5,585 6,141 Dumfries & Galloway 281 377 Wales 25 36 England 1 0 Other irregular sites (Scotland) 1 0 Britain total 10,326 11,597 Donegal 846 875 North Central 93 99 Mayo 90 91 Mayo/Galway Uplands 43 59 Galway Lowlands 175 148 Clare/Limerick 60 60 Shannon headwaters 114 100 Middle & Lower Shannon 264 281 Midlands 218 199 Wexford 6,977 7,047 Ireland total 8,880 8,959 Population estimate – 20,556
A total of 4,028 Greenland White-fronted Geese was aged at 25 sites across Britain during 2016/16, of which 16.5% were young birds (Table 2); slightly higher than in 2015/16 (15.5%) and above previous ten-year mean (12.6, 2006/07–2015/16) (Figure 4). Overall mean brood size was 2.78 young per successful pair (254 families assessed, at 13 sites) which was slightly lower than the previous season (2.96) and also the previous ten-year mean (3.01, 2006/07–2015/16) (Table 2 & Figure 4).
Across the British sites, the percentage of young ranged from 0% to 75% (with sample sizes ranging from four to 2,380 birds), with 20 sites exceeding 10% young in flocks (see Fox et al. 2017 for details). On Islay (where the highest number of birds were aged), the percentage young was 18.4% (compared with 16.1% in 2015/16), whilst elsewhere in Britain, 15.3% of the birds aged (4,028) were young (compared with 14.9% in 2015/16) (Table 2).
In Ireland, 3,881 birds were aged at ten sites, resulting in an overall percentage young of 12.5%, this being the highest recorded since 2010/11 and well above the previous five-year mean (6.3%, 2011/12–2015/16) (Table 2 & Figure 5). Overall, mean brood size was 3.04 young per successful pair (of 112 families assessed at five sites), which was also higher than in 2015/16 (2.61) and also the previous five-year mean (2.7, 2011/12–2015/16) (Table 2 & Figure 5).
The percentage young varied between sites ranging from 0% to 38.5% (with samples sizes ranging from two to 3,439 birds), with four sites exceeding 10% amongst flocks (see Fox et al. 2017 for details). The majority of the birds were aged at Wexford, of which 12.2% were young birds, whilst a higher percentage of young was seen amongst flocks elsewhere in Ireland (14.9%; n = 442) (Table 2).
Figure 5. The percentage of young (blue columns) and mean brood size (red circles) of Greenland White-fronted Geese in Ireland, 2007/08 – 2016/17 (no overall brood size data are available for 2007/08) (from Fox et al. 2017).
Region Percentage (%) of young (n) Mean brood size (n) Islay 18.4 (2,380) 3.04 (120) Britain excluding Islay 15.3 (4,028) 2.55 (134) Britain overall 16.5 (6,408) 2.78 (254) Wexford 12.2 (3,439) 3.13 (105) Rest of Ireland 14.9 (442) 1.71 (7) Ireland overall 12.5 (3,881) 3.04 (112)
Since the mid-1990s, this small global population of Greenland White-fronted Geese has shown consistent decline. Despite what appeared to be some level of stability between 2008 and 2013, there have since been further declines, with the 2016 population estimate being 47.1% lower than the peak in 1999 (35,692). It was, therefore, encouraging to see the population raise above 20,000 in 2017, with a c.9% increase on the previous year. This increase is likely due to the good breeding season in 2016, which was particularly noticeable amongst flocks in Ireland where the percentage of young rose above 10% for the first time since 2010/11.
The increase in the population was reflected in the spring count total at Wexford, where numbers rose for the first time since spring 2011; and for the second consecutive year, numbers on Islay were also notably higher compared with the previous spring (Figure 6).
Figure 6. The annual population estimate of Greenland White-fronted Goose (green squares), with numbers recorded at Wexford (blue diamonds) and Islay (red circles), spring 1983–2017 (from Fox et al. 2017).
Fox, A.D, I. Francis, D. Norriss & Alyn Walsh. 2017. Report of the 2016/2017 International Census of Greenland White-fronted Geese. Greenland White-fronted Goose Study / National Parks & Wildlife Service report, Kalo. Download
Previous annual results will be archived here. Annual Greenland White-fronted Goose Study reports can be found on the Reports & newsletter page.
Greenland White-fronted Goose Study census reports: See the Reports & newsletter page
Fox, A.D. 2003. The Greenland White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons flavirostris. The annual cycle of a migratory herbivore on the European continental fringe. Doctor’s dissertation (Dsc). National Environmental Research Institute, Denmark.
Fox, A.D., D.W. Norriss, D.A. Stroud & H.J. Wilson. 1994. Greenland White-fronted Geese in Ireland and Britain 1982/83-1993/94 – the first twelve years of international conservation monitoring. Greenland White-fronted Goose Study Research Report No. 8.
Other relevant material
Greenland White-fronted Goose Study site inventory
Hunting in Iceland: The numbers of Greenland White-fronted Geese hunted in Iceland are available here.