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) huntable during open season
Flyway population size (CSR 7; Wetlands International 2015) 540,000 individuals UK estimate (APEP 4) 510,000 individuals GB estimate (Frost et al. 2019) 510,000 individuals UK trend (Frost et al. 2020) 25-year trend (1992/93-2017/18) = 124% increase
10-year trend (2007/08-2017/18) = 67% 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, 2003-2018. Data collected through the Icelandic-breeding Goose Census.
Autumn/winter Estimate of population size Percentage of young (%) Mean brood size 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.M., N.A. Calbrade, G.A. Birtles, H.J. Mellan, C. Hall, A.E. Robinson,S.R. Wotton, D.E. Balmer & G.E. Austin. 2020. Waterbirds in the UK 2018/19: The Wetland Bird Survey. BTO, RSPB and JNCC, in association with WWT. British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford.
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.
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. 2020. 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 2020. 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 2019/20 [added October 2020]
The 60th consecutive Icelandic-breeding Goose Census took place during autumn and winter 2019, 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. (2020).
Counts were conducted by a network of volunteer observers and professional conservation staff over the weekends of 19/20 October and 23/24 November.
Coverage across the flyway was excellent, with 153 sites visited in October and 154 in November. Outside Britain, counts were also received from Iceland and Ireland.
Totals of 500,928 and 357,507 Pink-footed Geese were counted in October and November, respectively (Table 1). The total numbers counted in these months were 13.6% higher than the October 2018 count and 8.0% lower than the previous November count. The October total was used as the updated population estimate (Figure 1).
During the October census, 15 sites held over 10,000 Pink-footed Geese. Combined counts from the 32 sites holding numbers exceeding 1% of the 2019 population estimate (5,009 birds) accounted for 81.5% of the total October count. The highest numbers were recorded at Montrose Basin, Angus, which held 66,575 birds (13.3% of the population estimate), Beauly Firth, Highland (26,000, 5.2%), Carsebreck and Rhynd Lochs, Perth & Kinross (24,000, 4.8%), Findhorn Bay (20,800, 4.2%) and Middlemuir, New Pitsligo Moss (18,200, 3.6%).
Table 1. Regional distribution of Pink-footed geese during October and November 2019 (nc = not counted or no count received).
Region October November Iceland 7,500 20 Faroe Islands – – Ireland 12 73 North Scotland 70,983 15,231 Northeast Scotland 77,826 95,855 East Central Scotland 153,348 68,897 Southeast Scotland/Northeast England 49,384 20,243 Southwest Scotland/Northwest England 20,452 17,515 West England 50,405 52,551 East England 71,018 87,114 Southwest England nc 8 Total Counted 500,928 357,507 Population estimate 500,928
Figure 1. Annual census-derived estimates of the Greenland / Iceland Pink-footed Goose population size, 1960–2019. Five-year running mean shown as red line (e.g. mean for 2017 is from population estimates from 2015–2019).
Between late September and late October, a total of 15,992 Pink-footed Geese, in 21 flocks, were aged at various locations throughout Scotland and England (Table 2). This represented 3.1% of the 2019 population estimate. The brood size of 494 families was also determined during this period.
Breeding success was lower than the mean for the previous decade, with flocks containing 15.6% young birds (Figure 2) (mean 2009–2018: 17.6% ± 1.09 SE). The mean brood size of successful pairs was 1.98 juveniles, which is similar to the previous ten-year mean (mean 2009–2018: 1.99 ± 0.66 SE).
Table 2. The percentage of young and mean brood size of Pink-footed Geese in autumn 2019.
Region Time period Total aged Percentage of young (%) Number of broods Mean brood size North Scotland Late Sept 1,200 22.8 28 2.25 Early Oct 500 21.6 1 2 Late Oct 1,000 15.7 – – EC Scotland Late Oct 6,700 14.8 18 – W England Late Sept 1,640 7.9 63 2.05 Early Oct 3,392 14.4 247 1.93 Late Oct 1,216 19.7 127 1.88 E England Late Sept 153 38.6 3 3 Early Oct 191 29.8 7 3 Total 15,992 15.6 494 1.98
Figure 2. The percentage young (blue columns) and mean brood size (red circles) of Pink-footed Geese, 1960–2019.
The 2019 Pink-footed Goose population estimate of 500,928 was 13.6% higher than the 2018 estimate (440,891) and is the third highest population estimate during 60 years of annual monitoring of this population (Figure 1). It is likely that the 2018 population estimate suffered from some degree of undercounting. It is possible that the lack of information regarding how many Pink-footed Geese were present in Iceland during October 2018, twinned with the potential for birds to be roosting at locations in Britain not covered as part of the census, could have contributed to the overall 2018 population estimate being too low. A concerted effort was made by colleagues in Iceland to count Pink-footed Geese in the country during October 2019. A different approach to previous years was taken whereby birders and members of the public were asked to report sightings of Pink-footed Geese during the time of the census. This this will be built upon in future censuses.
As with previous censuses, the use of GPS tracking data helped to identify potential roost sites not being covered by the census. During October and November 2019, counters were deployed to an additional seven locations thought to be holding roosting Pink-footed Geese. Five of the additional seven locations held Pink-footed Geese at the time of the census, combined counts from these locations in October and November equated to 2.8% (14,005 birds) and 2.6% (13,200) respectively, of the overall population estimate. GPS tracking data continue to provide useful information on roosting locations used by birds throughout the wintering range and will continue to be used to identify new roost sites that are not yet covered as part of the Icelandic-breeding Goose Census.
Interestingly, during winter 2019, two colour-marked Pink-footed Geese from the Svalbard/Northwest European population were sighted in Lancashire (S. Darbyshire pers. comm.). Whilst any interchange between the two populations is not thought to massively affect the overall population estimates, connectivity is known to occur from time to time (Madsen et al. 2014).
Overall, Pink-footed Geese wintering in Britain had an average breeding season during 2019, with 15.6% young recorded at wintering sites in Britain. This was lower than the previous year (22.6%) and lower than the mean for the previous decade (mean 2009–2018: 17.6% ± 1.09 SE). The mean temperature (9.3˚C) in Iceland in June 2019, was lower than the June temperature recorded in the previous five years (2014–2018; 10.2˚C; Tutiempo 2020), and it is possible that temperature and weather conditions in Iceland may have affected the 2019 breeding success to some degree.
The harvesting of Pink-footed Geese in Iceland has fluctuated between c.15,000–24,500 birds annually between 2008–2019 (at the time of writing, data for 2019 are preliminary) (Figure 3; Statistics Iceland 2020). During 2018, 24,352 Pink-footed Geese were reported shot in Iceland, this being higher than the previous ten-year mean (2008–2017: 17,129 birds ± 8.41 SE). Since the start of hunting bag reporting in Iceland, the average total bag for Pink-footed Goose has been 15,316 birds (± 7.23 SE).
Figure 3. The annual number of harvested Pink-footed Geese in Iceland, 1995–2019. No data are available for 2003. Data for 2019 (unfilled circle) are preliminary (Statistics Iceland 2020).
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.
Brides, K, C. Mitchell & S. N.V. Auhage. 2020. Status and distribution of Icelandic-breeding geese: results of the 2019 international census. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Report, Slimbridge.19 pp. Download.
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.
Statistics Iceland. 2020. Online database: https://statice.is/ [Accessed 19 August 2020]
Tutiempo. 2020. Online database: https://en.tutiempo.net/climate/06-2019/ws-40630.html [Accessed July 2020]
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.