speciesaccounts_greenlandwhitefrontedgeeseGreenland 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.

  • Conservation Status

    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*†

    A2*; International Single Species Action Plan

    Least Concern (Europe and EU27)*

    Annex I

    Red

    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’

    Population Status

    Flyway population size (CSR 6; Wetlands International 2015)

    GB estimate (Musgrove et al. 2011)

    Irish estimate (Crowe & Holt. 2013)

    GB trend (SUKB 2016)

    Breeding success

    22,200 individuals

    13,000  individuals

    11,070 individuals

    Long-term trend (1988/89 – 2013/14): 19% decrease
    Ten-year trend (2003/04 – 2013/14): 37% decrease

    Variable (generally 10-20%), low since 1999

    Summary statistics

    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

     

    References

    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 map whitefront_greenland

    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.

    References

    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.

    Results from the censuses are presented in various reports which can be downloaded from the Reports & newsletter page or from GWFG – Conservation.

    Find out more about the Greenland White-fronted Goose Census.

  • Results for 2016/17 [added November 2017]

    Abundance

    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).

    Table 1. Autumn and spring counts in Britain and Ireland, 2016/17 (includes substituted counts; see full report) (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

    Breeding success

    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).

    Figure 4. The percentage of young (blue columns) and mean brood size (red circles) of Greenland White-fronted Geese in Britain, 1993/94–2016/17 (from Fox et al. 2017).

    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).

    Table 2. Percentage of young and mean brood size of Greenland White-fronted Geese in Britain and Ireland during winter 2016/17 (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)

    Discussion

    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).

    For further details see Fox et al. 2017.

    References

    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.

    2015/16 Results

    2014/15 Results

    2013/14 Results

    2012/13 Results

    2011/12 Results

    2010/11 Results

    2009/10 Results

    2008/09 Results

    2007/08 Results

    2006/07 Results

    2005/06 Results

     

  • Survey results

    Greenland White-fronted Goose Study census reports: See the Reports & newsletter page

    Wetland Bird Survey Alerts

    Wetland Bird Survey annual report

    Relevant publications

    AEWA International Single Species Action Plan

    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.

    Scottish Natural Heritage’s Species Action Framework

    Other relevant material

    Birdlife International’s Species factsheet

    British Trust for Ornithology’s BirdFacts

    Greenland White-fronted Goose Study

    Greenland White-fronted Goose Study site inventory

    SNH Islay Goose Project

    Hunting in Iceland: The numbers of Greenland White-fronted Geese hunted in Iceland are available here.

     

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