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.
Global status (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) Least Concern African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) C1 European status (European Red List of Birds) Least Concern (Europe and EU27) The Birds Directive (European Commission) Annex II (Part B) UK status (Birds of Conservation Concern) Amber UK quarry species (Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981) Schedule 2 (Part 1); huntable during the open season
Flyway population size (CSR 8; Wetlands International 2021) 500,000 individuals UK estimate (APEP 4) 510,000 individuals GB estimate (Frost et al. 2019) 510,000 individuals UK trend (Frost et al. 2021) 25-year trend (1993/94-2018/19) = 111% increase
10-year trend (2008/09-2018/19) = 47% increase
Table 1. 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, 2003-2020. Data collected through the Icelandic-breeding Goose Census.
Autumn/winter Estimate of population size Percentage of young (%) Mean brood size 2020 485,509 15.4 2.37 2019 500,928 15.6 1.98 2018 440,891 17.9 2.00 2017 515,852 17.1 1.85 2016 481,341 18.8 1.75 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
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.
Pink-footed Goose data presented in Table 1 (Estimate of population size/Percentage of young/Mean brood size) are licensed under the Open Government Licence 3.0 except where otherwise stated.
When you use information from this report under the Open Government Licence you must include the following attribution:
Contains Goose & Swan Monitoring Programme (GSMP) data from “WWT. 2021. Goose & Swan Monitoring Programme: survey results for Greenland/Iceland Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus. WWT/JNCC/NatureScot, Slimbridge” retrieved from https://monitoring.wwt.org.uk/our-work/goose-swan-monitoring-programme/species-accounts/pink-footed-goose/ © copyright and database right 2021. The GSMP is organised by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) in partnership with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and NatureScot with fieldwork conducted by volunteers.
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 2020/21 [added September 2021]
The 61st consecutive Icelandic-breeding Goose Census took place during autumn and winter 2020, providing information on the abundance and distribution of Greenland/Iceland Pink-footed Geese. A full account of the census can be found in Brides et al. (2021).
In Britain, counts were conducted by a network of volunteer observers and professional conservation staff over the weekends of 17/18 October and 21/22 November 2020. The additional three-yearly spring census, scheduled to take place in March 2021, was cancelled due to the various restrictions in place across Britain and Ireland as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic: this will, instead, take place in 2022. Outside of Britain, counts were also received from Iceland and Ireland. Coverage across the flyway was considered good, with 136 sites visited in October and 145 in November.
Totals of 485,509 and 373,515 Pink-footed Geese were counted in October and November, respectively (Table 1). The total numbers counted in these months, respectively, were 3.1% lower than the October 2019 count and 4.5% higher than the previous November count. The October 2020 total was used as the updated population estimate (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Annual census-derived estimates of the Greenland/Iceland Pink-footed Goose population size, 1960–2020. Five-year running mean shown as red line (e.g. mean for 2018 is from the population estimate from 2016–2020).
During the October census, 15 sites held more than 10,000 Pink-footed Geese. Combined counts from 27 sites holding numbers exceeding 1% of the 2020 population estimate (4,855 birds) accounted for 82.1% of the total October count. The highest numbers were recorded at Montrose Basin, Angus, which held 55,980 birds (11.5% of the population estimate), Alt Estuary, Merseyside (31,262, 6.4%), Read’s Islands Flats, Humberside (30,000, 6.2%), Iceland (25,370, 5.2%) and Beauly Firth, Highlands (19,300, 4.0%).
Table 1. Regional distribution of Pink-footed geese during October and November 2020 (nc = not counted or no count received).
Region October November Iceland 25,730 nc Ireland nc 161 North Scotland 46,684 28,708 Northeast Scotland 47,818 59,981 East Central Scotland 105,465 64,916 Southeast Scotland/Northeast England 86,492 39,747 Southwest Scotland/Northwest England 13,334 8,633 West England 88,837 52,527 East England 71,509 118,842 Total counted 485,509 373,515 Population estimate 485,509
Between mid-September and mid-December 2020, a total of 17,345 Pink-footed Geese in 28 flocks was aged at various locations throughout Scotland and England (Table 2). This represented 3.6% of the 2020 population estimate. The brood size of 453 families was also determined during this period.
Breeding success was lower than the mean for the previous decade, with flocks containing 15.4% young birds (Figure 2) (mean 2010–2019: 17.4% ± 1.10 SE). The mean brood size of successful pairs was 2.37 juveniles, which is higher than the previous ten-year mean (mean 2010–2019: 2.00 ± 0.06 SE).
Table 2. The percentage of young and mean brood size of Pink-footed Geese in autumn 2020.
Region Time period Total aged Percentage of young (%) Number of broods Mean brood size EC Scotland Mid-October 4,100 15 19 2.05 Late Ocotber 2,000 12.8 7 2.14 Mid December 2,050 16.3 9 2.00 NE Scotland Mid-September 50 34 7 1.71 Late September 500 33.4 30 2.10 Early October 50 26 – – West England Late September 570 16.5 8 2.38 Early October 558 43.9 79 3.10 Mid-October 2,303 18.5 64 2.53 Early November 3,043 2.3 27 2.56 Mid-November 783 12.6 47 2.11 Early December 1,338 24.9 156 2.13 Total 17,345 15.4 453 2.37
Figure 2. The percentage young (blue columns) and mean brood size (red circles) of Pink-footed Geese, 1960–2020.
The 2020 population estimate of 485,509 Pink-footed Geese represents a decrease of 3.1% on the previous estimate of 500,928 birds. Although a slight decrease, the number is not too dissimilar to recent population estimates which have ranged between 440,891 (2018) and 536,871 (2015) in recent years. As breeding success and hunting pressure have remained stable over the years (Brides et al. 2020) and with no apparent demographic explanation for a decrease in numbers, it is possible that some birds were missed from the overall total. One explanation for the slight decrease in numbers is the possibility that a number of Greenland/Iceland Pink-footed Geese were outside the usual range of the population and therefore not included within the 2020 census.
Whilst it’s not known how many individuals from the Greenland/Iceland population were on mainland Europe during the time of the October IGC, it is possible that birds migrating from Iceland were caught up in an area of low pressure over the southern North Sea named Storm Odette, which produced an extended period of disruptive winds, exceptional rainfall and notably cold temperatures to parts of the UK between 24– 26 September 2020, with parts of Norfolk experiencing one of the longest duration of gales to affect the area during the past 30 years (Holley, 2021).
During October 2020, two colour-marked Pink-footed Geese, both ringed in England, were sighted in The Netherlands during the week of the October IGC census (Figure 3): both birds were reported in separate flocks of several hundred individuals. One individual, ringed in Norfolk in 2018, had previously been seen in the UK (in Dumfries & Galloway) during winter 2019/20, suggesting that it is a regular wintering bird in the UK: it was sighted in The Netherlands on 10/10/2020. The second individual, which had not been seen in the UK since it was ringed at WWT Martin Mere in 2018, was sighted in The Netherlands on 12/10/2020, in Belgium on 13/11/2020 and 09/02/2021 and in Denmark on 03/03/2021. The sighting in Denmark is interesting as it suggests that this individual is likely to have joined the breeding population from Svalbard.
Figure 3. The population ranges of the Greenland/Iceland Pink-footed Goose (blue dashed line) and the Svalbard Pink-footed Goose (red line) with the re-sightings (orange dots) of the Pink-footed Geese colour-marked in England and sighted in Belgium, The Netherlands and Denmark during winter 2020/21 in the inner box (WWT unpublished data).
These interesting sightings come after colour-marked Pink-footed Geese from the Svalbard population were seen in the UK during the time of the 2019 IGC (see Brides et al. 2020). Whilst interchange between the two populations is known to occur from time to time (Madsen et al. 2014), it is not thought to massively affect the overall population estimates (Brides et al. 2020). Such sightings also reaffirm the importance of colour-marking and telemetry in population monitoring, as the use of these techniques provides valuable knowledge and insight into the connectivity that may occur between different populations.
During 2020, Pink-footed Geese wintering in Britain experienced a lower than average breeding season, with 15.4% young found in those flocks assessed; however, the mean brood size of successful pairs was slightly higher than the previous ten-year mean. It is possible that temperature and weather conditions in Iceland may have affected the 2020 breeding success to some degree: although the mean temperature (10.7˚C) in northern Iceland in June 2020 was slightly higher than the June temperature recorded in the previous five years (2015–2019; 9.7˚C; Tutiempo 2021), periods of prolonged wet weather could have contributed to a poorer breeding season.
Many thanks go to the many IGC counters and Local Organisers who provided the basis of the population estimates. Thanks also go to those who contributed age assessment data and those reporting colour-mark sightings.
Brides, K, C. Mitchell, A. Sigfússon & S. N.V. Auhage. 2020. Status and distribution of Icelandic-breeding geese: results of the 2019 international census. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Report, Slimbridge.19pp.
Brides, K., K.A. Wood, S.N.V. Auhage, A. Sigfússon & C. Mitchell. 2021. Status and distribution of Icelandic-breeding geese: results of the 2020 international census. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Report, Slimbridge. 19pp.
Holley, D.M. 2021. The impacts of Storm Odette in eastern England, 24–26 September 2020. Weather 76: 86-88. https://doi.org/10.1002/wea.3920.
Madsen, J., R. Tjornlov, M. Frederiksen, C. Mitchell & A. Sigfusson. 2014. Connectivity between flyway populations of waterbirds: assessment of rate of exchange, their causes and consequences. Journal of Applied Ecology 51: 183–193.
Tutiempo. 2021. https://en.tutiempo.net/climate/06-2020/ws-40630.html. Accessed May 2021.
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 – ZZZ 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.
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.