The Greenland/Iceland Pink-footed Goose population winters almost exclusively in Britain. This population breeds primarily in central Iceland with smaller numbers also occurring along the east coast of Greenland.
There is also a smaller population of Pink-footed Goose which breeds in Svalbard and winters in the Low Countries (the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and, increasingly, Denmark).
The Goose & Swan Monitoring Programme only monitors the Greenland / Iceland population.
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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)
Least Concern (Europe and EU27)
Annex II (Part B)
huntable during open season
Flyway population size (CSR 6; Wetlands International 2015)
GB estimate (Musgrove et al. 2011)
GB trend (SUKB 2016)
Breeding success (GSMP survey)
Long-term trend (1988/89 – 2013/14): 108% increase
Ten-year trend (2003/04- 2013/14): 37% increase
Generally varied between 17% and 23% between 2004 and 2014.
Annual census-derived estimates of the population size, percentage of young (%) and mean brood size (young per successful pair) of Greenland/Iceland Pink-footed Goose, 2003-2015. Data collected through the Icelandic-breeding Goose Census.
Autumn/winter Estimate of population size Percentage of young (%) Mean brood size 2015 536,871 18.8 1.89 2014 393,170 19.4 2.01 2013 372,074 17.3 2.16 2012 359,175 21.1 2.30 2011 260,325 8.5 1.77 2010 297,798 19.9 2.32 2009 364,212 17.3 1.87 2008 351,188 22.9 2.08 2007 284,405 20.0 2.27 2006 230,123 19.3 2.20 2005 302,774 18.1 1.7 2004 276,644 19.4 2.1 2003 280,998 19.0 2.19
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.
Greenland/Iceland Pink-footed Geese breed primarily in central Iceland and in smaller numbers along the east coast of Greenland. Many thousands of non-breeding birds migrate from Iceland to northeast Greenland to moult. Migration begins in early autumn to the wintering grounds, which are almost entirely in Britain. Very small numbers also occur in Ireland. From mid April, birds begin to leave Britain and stop over in southern Iceland before departing for the breeding grounds, where they arrive from mid May (Mitchell & Hearn 2004).
Flyway of the Greenland/Iceland Pink-footed Goose
Arrival in Britain begins in September particularly in northeast Scotland, at places such as Loch of Strathbeg, Aberdeenshire, and there is rapid movement further south as far as Lancashire. As winter progresses many of the birds in east central Scotland move south to England. Numbers in the southernmost wintering area of Norfolk have increased considerably since the early 1990s, and now up to half of the population occurs there in mid winter.
The traditional main winter habitat is thought to have been saltmarsh, but from the late 19th century the species has moved inland to feed on farmland. In recent decades birds have fed on valuable agricultural crops, such as fertilised grassland and cereals, and have been frequently accused of reducing crop yields and puddling soils. In autumn when they feed on fields containing post-harvest root crops, such as potatoes and waste sugar beet, they do no harm, but during mid winter and spring they graze on growing cereals and come into direct competition with livestock for the spring growth of grass leys. Local feeding studies have demonstrated seasonal changes in the diet of Pink-footed Geese apparently responding to, and in part driven by, seasonal changes in the habitats available.
Mitchell, C. & R.D. Hearn. 2004. Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus (Greenland/Iceland population) in Britain and Ireland 1960/61 – 1999/2000. Waterbird Review Series, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust/Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Slimbridge.
Icelandic-breeding Goose Census
The Greenland/Iceland Pink-footed Goose population is monitored through the Icelandic-breeding Goose Census; an international census undertaken in Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and the Faeroe Islands. The census is undertaken annually and involves coordinated counts carried out in autumn and early winter.
Results from the census are presented in annual reports, which can be downloaded from the Reports & newsletter page.
Find out more about the Icelandic-breeding Goose Census
GSMP age assessments
The annual breeding success of the Greenland/Iceland Pink-footed Goose population is monitored through age assessments that are undertaken annually throughout the autumn and early winter. Counters record the number of first winter birds present within a flock and individual brood sizes (i.e. how many young in each family group).
Results from these age assessments are presented on the ‘Latest results’ tab, and a summary table can also be found on the ‘Status summary’ tab.
Find out more about age assessments
Results for 2015/16 [added August 2016]
The 56th consecutive Icelandic-breeding Goose Census took place during autumn and winter 2015, providing information on the abundance and distribution of Greenland/Iceland Pink-footed Geese. A full account of the census can be found in Mitchell (2016). Counts were conducted by a network of volunteer observers and professional conservation staff over the weekends of 17/18 October and 14/15 November 2015. Coverage in the UK was good and similar to the preceding year, with 113 sites visited in October and 126 in November. Outside the UK, counts were made at several sites in Iceland during October, when some birds had yet to leave breeding areas.
Totals of 530,961 and 270,101 Pink-footed Geese were counted in October and November, respectively (Table 1). The total numbers counted in these months were 37.1% higher and 19.4% lower than the respective counts in the previous year. Coverage was good and only one estimated count needed to be added to the unadjusted total. The peak winter total in October was used to derive a population estimate of 536,871 geese. This represents an increase of 36.5% since 2014/15 (Figure 1), when a population size of 393,170 individuals was estimated.
A mass arrival of Pink-footed Geese into Britain occurred just before the October 2015 count weekend. A quarter of the population had arrived in both East Central Scotland and Southeast Scotland/Northeast England and just under a fifth in Southwest Lancashire by the middle of the month. Only a half of the October count was recorded in November, with Southeast Scotland/Northeast England, for example, falling from holding a quarter of the October count total to just 4%
Table 1. Regional distribution of Pink-footed Geese during October and November 2015 (nc = not counted).
Region October November Iceland 8,000 nc Faroe Islands nc nc Ireland nc 75 North Scotland 35,293 22,195 Northeast Scotland 75,277 70,841 East Central Scotland 132,370 77,795 Southeast Scotland/northeast England 133,158 21,212 Southwest Scotland/northwest England 16,409 6,976 West England 94,332 25,531 East England 36,122 45,476 Total Counted 530,961 270,101 Estimated counts 5,910 – Adjusted total 536,871 270,101 Population estimate 536,871
Figure 1. Annual census-derived estimates of Pink-footed Goose population size, 1960-2015. Five-year running mean shown as red line. (e.g. mean for 2013 is from population estimates for 2011-2015).
Between early September and early November, a total of 16,765 Pink-footed Geese, in 39 flocks, was aged at various localities throughout Scotland and west England. This sample, expressed as a percentage of the 2015/16 census-derived population estimate, was 3.1%. The brood size of 404 families was also determined during this period.
Breeding success was similar to the mean for the previous decade, with 18.8% young (mean 2005-2014: 18.4% ± 1.22 SE) (Figure 2). The mean brood size of successful pairs was 1.89 juveniles, which was also similar to the mean recorded during the previous ten years (mean 2005-2014: 2.07 ± 0.07 SE).
Age counts were taken in several regions, but at different times during the autumn. This leads to differences in the percentage young and mean brood sizes recorded both spatially and temporally. Traditionally, all age counts have been collated and overall figure calculated, but the results from autumn 2015 suggest that there is some variation in age assessments both geographically and temporally and collating all the figures masks these differences.
Table 2. The percentage of young and mean brood size of Pink-footed Geese in autumn 2014.
Region Time period Total aged Percentage of young (%) Number of broods Mean brood size North Scotland Late Oct 1,350 18.4 – – Northeast Scotland Late Sep 1,000 27.1 36 2.33 Early Oct 1,500 26.5 29 2.17 Late Oct 1,000 19.8 5 2.20 Early Oct – – 2 1.50 East Central Scotland Early Oct 1,050 19.3 7 2.57 Late Oct 4,300 17.2 10 2.70 Southwest Scotland Late Sept 427 34.9 17 3.29 West England Early Oct 3,400 12.6 181 1.67 Early Nov 443 10.6 24 1.45 East England Late Oct 2,295 20.3 93 1.77 Overall 16,765 18.8 404 1.89
Figure 2. The percentage of young (blue columns) and mean brood size (red circles) of Pink-footed Geese, 1960-2015.
Large counts at some of the principal resorts in mid October 2015 suggested that there had been a mass arrival of Pink-footed Geese into Britain in the weeks prior to the count weekend. The count of 85,632 Pink-footed Geese at Montrose Basin, Angus, was the largest IGC count ever recorded at a single site and accounted for 16% of the entire population. West Water Reservoir, Borders held 82,920 birds on the same date. A total of 14 sites held over 10,000 geese at the time of the October census and 27 sites held over 5,000 birds. It is well established that some key wetland sites support higher numbers of geese soon after they arrive in northern Britain, and numbers decline as geese move south within Scotland or onto Lancashire and Norfolk. However, the low number counted in the November census (269,579, or 50% of the October count) was remarkable in how few birds were counted.
The 2015 population estimate of 536,871 was 36.5% higher than the figure for October 2014 (393,170) and, by far, the highest population estimate ever recorded. Breeding success in 2015 was about average and appears to be more than compensating for annual mortality. The 2015 population estimate confirms that the counts of autumn 2010 and 2011 underestimated the total number of geese in the population in those years. However, the increase of nearly 144,000 birds between 2014 and 2015 suggest that the most recent counts in 2012-2014 also probably underestimated the true number of birds in the population. Assuming steady growth in the population the annual rate of increase since 1987 has been at about 3.0% per annum.
Pink-footed Goose breeding success in summer 2015, at 18.8%, was unremarkable and similar to the long-term average of 18.4% (+ 1.22 SE) over the most recent ten years. The average productivity was also confirmed by the proportion of young in the Iceland bag; at 26.9%, this was just lower than the recent average (28.2%) for the ten year period 2005 to 2014 (A. Sigfússon in litt.). Hunting of Pink-footed Geese in Iceland appears stable with 16,656 shot there 2014 (the year for which the most recent data are available). Unfortunately, no comparable data exist for the number shot in the UK. It would appear that sustained output of around 20% young per annum, and annual mortality probably static, in terms of the number of birds shot, is sufficient to fuel a steady increase in numbers.
The November 2015 count recorded only 270,101 birds, approximately half the number counted a month before. In the three years prior to 2015, the November count had been, on average, 83% of the October count. Poor weather, particularly around the Irish Sea on the weekend of the November count affected count conditions on the Solway Firth and probably at other western sites too, which may have led to undercounts. In Southwest Lancashire numbers fell from over 92,000 geese to 24,000 between October and November, a difference of nearly 70,000 birds. The number in Norfolk only increased by 15,000 birds so it is unlikely that those absent from Southwest Lancashire were there. Thus, undercounting on the Solway Firth and Southwest Lancashire in November is a very real possibility. In addition, recent telemetry data has identified a number of new roosts, including flooded areas close to rivers, that, due to their temporary nature, are not counted. Some Pink-footed Geese in November may have been using such roosts.
Alternatively, the October counts may have over-estimated the true number of Pink-feet in Britain. To this end, counters were asked to double check their count figures and typographical errors in the data entry were also checked. As far as is it is possible to tell, the high October count appears to be valid. Checks were made in Denmark and there was no evidence from marked birds, or ring-recoveries that there had been an influx of birds from the Svalbard population (J.Madsen in litt.). It is possible that in the years between 2009 and 2015, some Pink-footed Geese remained in Iceland, or even in east Greenland, at the time of the October counts, although information from hunters in the interior of Iceland in early October suggest that this is unlikely. The first snows in the interior of Iceland tend to occur in mid September, pushing the birds south, and GPS location data from marked Pink-footed Geese indicated that movements from East Greenland to Iceland were in early September and departure from Iceland was in the last days of September.
Thus, it must be tentatively concluded that since 2009/10, the annual autumn IGC counts have probably underestimated the true number of Pink-footed Geese within the Iceland/Greenland population. The breeding range and abundance of Pink-footed Geese in Iceland and north and east Greenland have increased in recent decades, confirming a population increase. However, it is apparent that the surveillance undertaken to track the population is markedly different to the situation up to the early 2000s. In some years since 2000, more roosts, that are not counted, are probably being used, and the timing of the IGC October count needs to be carefully chosen to avoid large number of birds remaining in Iceland. Pink-footed Geese tend to leave the highlands of Iceland once the first snow falls in September. The timing of the departure from Greenland is largely unknown. Any change in the timing of early autumn snowfall, caused by climate change may be affecting the dates the geese arrive in the UK.
In 2015, it would appear that for the first time since 2009/10, the vast majority of geese had left Iceland and they were concentrated at traditional roosts that are well covered by IGC. A combination that was conducive to the best population estimate possible.
As ever, thanks are extended to the many IGC counters who provided the basis of the population assessments. Of particular importance is the role of the Local Organisers. Goose count information was also provided by G. Gudmundsson and A. Sigfússon from Iceland, and Helen Boland from Birdwatch Ireland from Ireland. Ian Patterson, Kane Brides and Larry Griffin kindly provided additional age counts.
Mitchell, C. 2016. Status and distribution of Icelandic-breeding geese: results of the 2015 international census. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust/Joint Nature Conservation Committee Report, Slimbridge.
Previous annual results will be archived here. Annual Icelandic-breeding Goose Census reports can be found on the Reports & newsletter page.
In the 1950s, WWT initiated a study into the population dynamics of Pink-footed Geese. The first capture was of seven in southwest Scotland on 22 March 1950, and the following winter a further 686 were marked. By the end of the decade, some 11,844 had been newly ringed in northern Britain. Two expeditions to the breeding grounds in central Iceland caught 1,151 flightless Pink-footed Geese in 1951 and a remarkable 8,745 in 1953. The geese were marked with metal rings only but generated many recoveries with rings being returned by wildfowlers.
A second phase of marking began in the late 1980s, with renewed interest in the fortunes of this population as numbers were increasing. The birds were marked in wintering areas, primarily WWT Martin Mere and Loch Leven, with either engraved plastic leg rings or neck collars. The highest number caught was 348 in 1988 and between 1987 and 2016, a total of 3,345 had been marked. A further 41 birds were caught in Iceland in July 1987. Then, between 1996 and 2000, WWT joined colleagues from the Icelandic Institute of Natural History to capture geese on their breeding grounds in north and central Iceland. This resulted in a further 3,246 newly ringed birds, the vast majority of which were fitted with neck collars. In recent years, captures have been much reduced but have continued in Britain thanks to efforts by the Tay Ringing Group and the Grampain Ringing Group.
During the winter, Pink-footed Geese are usually caught using large nets fired over grazing flocks; these were initially powered by rockets, but since the 1980s, cannons have been used. During the summer months on the breeding quarters, goslings are growing their first flight feathers and the adult birds become flightless whilst moulting and replacing their flight feathers. It is, therefore, possible to round up the flightless geese (rather like rounding up sheep) into netted corrals.
In total, more than 65,000 sightings of colour-marked birds have been made since the late 1980s. These individually-marked birds, some of which have been seen more than 50 times throughout their lifetime, have allowed a detailed understanding of the individual pairing and breeding success, survival rates and site selection. This information, along with other demographic data from the Goose & Swan Monitoring Programme, has been used to explain changes in population size and distribution (e.g. Frederiksen et al. 2004).
Resightings of colour-marked Pink-footed Geese have led to a number of important discoveries concerning their movements and individual use of the flyway. This work has confirmed that the geese migrate from breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland, staging at important sites in east Scotland before perhaps up to a half of the population migrate south to Lancashire and Norfolk, though there is almost certainly also some direct arrival into Lancashire.
Ring combinations used
Grey neck collar Orange leg ring White leg ring Alpha/numeric A3 – U7 – – Alpha/alpha AA – ZZ – – Numeric/numeric – – 01 – 99 Numeric/alpha 3A – 7L – – Alpha/alpha/alpha AAA – TZZ AAA – BZZ AAA – TYZ
If you see any colour-marked Pink-footed Geese with these combinations please send your sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org
Frederiksen, M., R.D. Hearn, C. Mitchell, A.Þ. Sigfússon, R.L. Swann & A.D. Fox. 2004. The size and dynamics of Icelandic-breeding goose populations: a reassessment of the evidence. Journal of Applied Ecology 41: 315-334.
Icelandic-breeding Goose Census reports: See the Reports & newsletter page
Mitchell, C. 2012. Mapping the distribution of feeding Pink-footed and Iceland Greylag Geese in Scotland. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust / Scottish Natural Heritage Report, Slimbridge. Download
Mitchell, C. & Hearn, R.D. 2004. Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus (Greenland/Iceland population) in Britain and Ireland 1960/61 – 1999/2000. Waterbird Review Series, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust / Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Slimbridge. Download
Other relevant material
Hunting in Iceland: The numbers of Pink-footed Geese hunted in Iceland are available here.