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) Least Concern††
    African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) A2*;  International Single Species Action Plan
    European status (European Red List of Birds) Least Concern (Europe and EU27)†
    The Birds Directive (European Commission) Annex I
    UK status (Birds of Conservation Concern) Red
    UK quarry species (Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981) Schedule 2 (Part 1) exception: not huntable
    † assessed at species level Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
    †† 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 8; Wetlands International 2021) 21,500 individuals
    UK estimate (APEP 4) 11,500 individuals
    GB estimate (Frost et al. 2019) 12,000 individuals
    All-Ireland estimate (Burke et al. 2018) 9,590 individuals
    UK trend (Frost et al. 2021) 25-year trend (1993/94-2018/19) = 34% decrease
    10-year trend (2008/09-2018/19) = 10% decrease

    Summary statistics

    The Greenland White-fronted Goose Census and the age assessments of this population are organised by the Greenland White-fronted Goose Study.

    Table 1. Annual estimates of the population size of Greenland White-fronted Goose in Britain and Ireland, spring 2003-2021 (from Fox et al. 2021).

    Spring Estimate of population size
    2021 20,186
    2020 21,509
    2019 21,466
    2018 20,529
    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

    Table 2. Annual estimates of the proportion of young (%) and mean brood size (young per successful pair) of Greenland White-fronted Goose in Britain and Ireland, 2002/03-2020/21 (from Fox et al. 2021).

    Britain Ireland
    Season Proportion of young (%) Mean brood size Proportion of young (%) Mean brood size
    2020/21 13.0 2.41 6.4 3.24
    2019/20 19.5 2.70 10.8 3.07
    2018/19 11.5 2.67 6.9 2.80
    2017/18 10.7 2.63 5.3 2.82
    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

    Burke, B., L.J. Lewis, N. Fitzgerald, T. Frost, G.E. Austin & T.D. Tierney. Estimates of waterbird numbers wintering in Ireland, 20011/12-2015/16. Irish Birds 11: 1-12

    Fox, A.D, I. Francis, A. Walsh, D. Norriss & S. Kelly. 2021. Report of the 2020/2021 International Census of Greenland White-fronted Geese. Greenland White-fronted Goose Study / National Parks & Wildlife Service report, Kalo.

    Frost, T., G.E. Austin, R.D. Hearn, S. McAvoy, A. Robinson, D.A. Stroud, I. Woodward & S.R. Wotton. 2019. Population estimates of wintering waterbirds in Great Britain. British Birds 112: 130-145.

    Frost, T.M., N.A. Calbrade, G.A. Birtles, C. Hall, A.E. Robinson, S.R. Wotton, D.E. Balmer & G.E. Austin. 2021. Waterbirds in the UK 2019/20: The Wetland Bird Survey. BTO, RSPB and JNCC, in association with WWT. British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford.

    Wetlands International. 2021. Waterbird population estimates. Retrieved from http://wpe.wetlands.org/ September 2021.

  • 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 the Greenland White-fronted Goose Study website .

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

  • Results for 2020/21 [added November 2021]

    Abundance

    Coordinated counts of the Greenland White-fronted Goose population in Britain and Ireland were carried out in autumn 2020 and spring 2021, representing the 29th annual census. The counts were organised by the Greenland White-fronted Goose Study in Britain and by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Ireland.

    Combining the results from the spring 2021 coordinated counts in Britain and Ireland gives a population estimate of 20,186, a decrease of 6.2% on the spring 2020 estimate (Figure 1; Table 1).

    Figure 1. Annual population estimates of Greenland White-fronted Geese, spring 1983–2021 (filled circles) (from Fox et al. 2021 ). The five-year running mean (e.g. mean for 2018 is from population estimates for 2016–20) 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.

    Table 1. Autumn and spring counts in Britain and Ireland, 2020/21 (includes substituted counts; see full report) (from Fox et al. 2021).

    Region Autumn Census Spring Census
    Orkney 62 102
    Caithness 310 287
    Western Isles 204 145
    Inner Hebrides 8 8
    Lochaber/North Argyll 1,355 1,272
    South Argyll 2,418 2,744
    Islay 6,350 6,878
    Dumfries & Galloway 291 292
    Wales 44 40
    England 14 2
    Scotland (other sites) 3 6
    Britain total 11,059 11,776
    Donegal 766 1,085
    North Central 129 137
    Mayo 62 62
    Mayo/Galway Uplands 86 98
    Galway Lowlands 149 132
    Clare/Limerick 42 45
    Shannon Headwaters 100 100
    Middle & Lower Shannon 309 219
    Midlands 270 270
    Wexford/Southeast 5,904 6,262
    Ireland total 7,817 8,410
    Population estimate  – 20,186

     

    Coverage was more or less complete in Britain, with all resorts counted at least once during the 2020/21 season. For any sites not covered during the census periods, counts were substituted with those undertaken close to the defined dates. For autumn 2020 and spring 2021, counts were substituted for seven sites, accounting for 1.7% and 3.8% of the British autumn and spring totals, respectively.

    An overall total of 11,059 Greenland White-fronted Geese was recorded in Britain during the autumn 2020 census, representing a 3.8% decrease compared with the previous year (Figure 2). During the autumn census, 14 geese were recorded in England, 44 in Wales and 11,001 in Scotland, of which 57.7% were on Islay (Table 1). The total count on Islay (6,350 birds) was just 25 birds higher than recorded there in autumn 2019.

    The spring 2021 census total was 11,776 geese, representing an 6.2% increase compared with spring 2020 (Figure 2). During the census, two geese were recorded in England, 40 in Wales and 11,734 in Scotland, of which 58.6% were on Islay (Table 1). The total count on Islay (6,878 birds) was 16.4% higher than recorded there in spring 2020 (5,910).

    Figure 2. Coordinated count totals of Greenland White-fronted Geese in Britain, 1982/83–2020/21, 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. 2021).

    Good coverage was achieved throughout Ireland during 2020/21, although Covid-19 restrictions did prevent counts taking place at some sites and a few flocks proved elusive to find (see Fox et al. 2021). For the autumn 2020 census, counts were substituted for six sites, accounting for 5.7% of the overall autumn total, whilst for the spring 2021 census, counts were substituted for ten sites, accounting for 17.0% of the census total.

    An autumn census total of 7,817 Greenland White-fronted Geese was recorded in 2020, this being 11.8% lower than in autumn 2019, with 75.5% of the geese located in Wexford (Figure 3; Table 1). The total count in Wexford (5,904 birds) was 11.5% lower than recorded in autumn 2019 (6,672).

    An estimated total of 8,410 geese was recorded for the spring 2021 census, representing an 19.3% decrease compared with the 2020 count, with 74.5% of the total were recorded in Wexford (Figure 3; Table 1). The total count in Wexford (6,262 birds) was 24.7% lower than estimated for spring 2020 (8,312).

    Figure 3. Coordinated count totals of Greenland White-fronted Geese in Ireland, 1996/97–2020/21, showing autumn (open triangles; data unavailable for 2000–2007) and spring (filled squares; open squares represent estimated values for years when data were available from Wexford only) census results for each season (from Fox et al. 2021). No data were for 2001 due to the Foot & mouth outbreak.

    Breeding success

    A total of 4,619 Greenland White-fronted Geese were aged in Britain during 2020/21, of which 13.0% were young birds (Table 2), this being notably lower than the result for 2019/20 (19.5%) but similar to the previous ten-year mean (14.0%, 2010/11–2019/20). The overall mean brood size, amongst the 145 families sampled, was 2.41 young per successful pair (Table 2), which is slightly lower than that for the previous winter (2.70) and the previous ten-year mean (2.86, 2010/11–2019/20) (Figure 4).

    Across the 23 sites in Britain where age assessments were carried out, the percentage of young amongst flocks ranged from 0% to 100% (sample sizes of 1–2,231 birds), with below 10% young recorded at five sites, including two that held 0%. On Islay, where the largest sample of geese was aged, 11.5% of the geese were recorded as young birds (Table 2), which is well below the result for 2019/20 (20.7% amongst 2,608 birds). Elsewhere in Britain, amongst the 2,388 birds aged, 14.5% were young, this also being lower than for the previous winter (18.8% amongst 4,359 birds).

    A total of 3,072 Greenland White-fronted Geese were aged across just four sites in Ireland during 2020/21, of which 6.4% were recorded as young birds (Table 2), this being lower than in 2019/20 (10.8%; Figure 5) and the previous ten-year mean (8.2%, 2010/11–2019/20). The overall mean brood size, for the 54 families assessed, was 3.24 young per successful pair (Table 2), this being slightly higher than recorded in 2019/20 (3.07) and above the previous ten-year mean (2.83, 2010/11–2019/20) (Figure 5).

    Across the sites, the percentage young ranged from 5.9% to 21.0% (with sample sizes of 17 to 2,921 birds), with two sites holding below 10% young. At Wexford, where the majority of birds were aged, 6.2% were recorded as young birds (Table 2), this being lower than for the previous winter (10.8% amongst 4,466).

    Table 2. Percentage of young and mean brood size of Greenland White-fronted Geese in Britain and Ireland during winter 2020/21 (from Fox et al. 2021).

     Region Percentage of young (n) Mean brood size (n)
    Islay 11.5% (2,231) 2.64 (55)
    Rest of Britain 14.5% (2,388) 2.27 (90)
    Britain overall 13.0% (4,619) 2.41 (145)
    Wexford 6.1% (2,921) 3.26 (50)
    Rest of Ireland 11.3% (151) 3.00 (4)
    Ireland overall  6.4% (3,072) 3.24 (54)

     

     

    Figure 4. The percentage of young (blue columns) and mean brood size (red circles) of Greenland White-fronted Geese in Britain, 1993/94–2020/21 (from Fox et al. 2021).

     

    Figure 5. The percentage of young (blue columns) and mean brood size (red circles) of Greenland White-fronted Geese in Ireland, 2007/08 – 2020/21 (no overall brood size data are available for 2007/08) (from Fox et al. 2021).

    Discussion

    The Greenland White-fronted Goose population has suffered a significant decline since the turn of the century, with numbers falling from a peak of c. 35,700 in 1999 to under 19,000 by 2015. However, since 2017, the population appears to have stabilised, although spring 2020 did see a slight decline (by 1,323 birds) compared with the previous year (Figure 6).

    In Britain, there was little change in the total number recorded during the spring 2021 census compared with 2020, despite the reasonable breeding success in summer 2020. Compared with the previous year, almost all the wintering flocks monitored had remained stable or declined in abundance by up to 10%; however, the increase in numbers on Islay (Figure 6) had a balancing effect resulting in an overall increase in the population across the country.

    Conversely, the total number recorded in Ireland during spring 2021 was notably lower than the previous year, mostly as a result of the drop in numbers recorded at Wexford where the lowest count since 1984 was recorded (Figure 6). Although this may, perhaps, not be surprising given the low reproductive success recorded among the birds accessed at Wexford in 2020/21, it does highlight a significant decline in local abundance.

    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 1983–2021 (from Fox et al. 2021). Open symbols represent estimated counts: see Figures 1–3 for further details.

    For further details see Fox et al. 2021.

    References

    Fox, A.D, I. Francis, A. Walsh, D. Norriss & S, Kelly. 2021. Report of the 2020/2021 International Census of Greenland White-fronted Geese. Greenland White-fronted Goose Study / National Parks & Wildlife Service report, Kalo. Fox et al. 2021

  • Previous annual results will be archived here. Annual Greenland White-fronted Goose Study reports can be found on the Reports & newsletter page.

    2019/20 Results

    2018/19 Results

    2017/18 Results

    2016/17 Results

    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

     

  • Relevant publications

    AEWA International Single Species Action Plan

    NatureScot Species Action Framework

    Griffin, L.R., Burrell, E.M., Harrison, A.L., Mitchell, C. & Hilton, G.M. 2020. Conservation management of Greenland white-fronted geese Anser albifrons flavirostris on Islay, Scotland. Scottish Natural Heritage Research Report No. 912. Download

    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. Link

    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 Study publications and resources

    Birdlife International’s Species factsheet

    British Trust for Ornithology’s BirdFacts

    NatureScot Islay Sustainable Goose Management Strategy

    NatureScot Islay Goose Management Scheme

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

    WWT Greenland White-front telemetry studies