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Greenland white-fronted goose

What action is going on for this species?

The following will give you information on what work has been taking place through the Species Action Framework:

Species background

The Greenland white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons flavirostris) is a medium-sized grey goose with orange legs and an orange bill; adults have a large white patch surrounding the base of the bill and bold black bars on the belly. Juveniles lack this barring.  

Why is this on the Species Action List?

The Greenland white-fronted goose qualifies under criterion 1a of the Species Action Framework as a species for conservation action because of its significant decline.  It also qualifies under criterion 3a, as being the focus of conflicts where coexistence is difficult to achieve.

The Greenland white-fronted goose is listed on Annex I of the EC Birds Directive and Schedule 2 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended.  The population is considered to be Endangered under ICUN Red Data List criteria.

Habitat, distribution and abundance

The Greenland white-fronted goose is one of two subspecies of the greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) recorded in the UK (the other being the European white-fronted goose (A. a. albifrons), which winters in southern England).  It breeds in western Greenland, migrating during September and October via staging grounds in Iceland to winter exclusively in Ireland and western Britain, mainly in the Hebrides. 

The present winter range has not changed markedly over recent decades.  In Scotland, most birds winter along the west coast, mainly on Islay where about two thirds of the Scottish population occurs.  The remaining birds winter at 33 regularly used sites, with Tiree, Coll, Rhunahaorine and Machrihanish supporting the largest numbers. 

The wintering population is traditionally associated with a landscape characterized by peatlands and low intensity agricultural land, often in remote areas.  Feeding areas occurred in bog habitats but in recent years intensively managed grasslands and stubbles have been increasingly used.  This is especially noticeable in the important wintering areas of Wexford (Ireland) and Islay.  Traditional feeding habits may still occur at night in those flocks that have retained roost sites on bogs.

Two complete censuses of all known Greenland white-fronted goose wintering haunts in Britain found a total of 14,287 birds in spring 2006 (7,111 on Islay and 7,085 in the rest of Scotland).  Breeding success has been well below the average for the last 15 years at 8.6% young.  The trend for poor reproductive performance in recent years continued in 2005.  The global population estimate for spring 2006 of 24,804, was the lowest spring count since 1988.

General ecology

Greenland white-fronted geese arrive on the Scottish west coast in October, leaving again in April. During winter, the birds feed mainly on improved grasslands, eating grass and clover.

History of decline, contributory factors and current threats

In the 1950s, the population was estimated at 17,500-23,000 but decreased to 14,300 by the late 1970s.  Numbers then increased, reaching a peak of 35,573 in 1999, since when a population decrease has been observed. 

Preliminary data from the breeding grounds indicate that overall density of Greenland white-fronted goose pairs has decreased three-fold since 1999, corresponding to a similar decline in families returning to Islay over the same time period.  In addition, fewer non-breeding individuals were seen in west Greenland in 2005 compared to 1999, with a 53% decline in density, again mirroring the decline seen in numbers wintering on Islay. 

Habitat loss and hunting played a likely role in declines during the 1960s and 1970s.  The increase in numbers recorded through the1980s and early 1990s was a result of a reduction in hunting mortality from the early 1980s.  Since 1999, however, continued low production of young over several years, particularly the last five years, has failed to replace annual losses for the population, for example reproductive success in 2005 was well below the long-term average since 1960.  The driving force behind declines in productivity are not known with certainty but it may be related to an expansion of Canada goose numbers on the breeding grounds leading to increased competition.

The 'Species Lead' at Scottish Natural Heritage

Last updated on Tuesday 19th November 2013 at 13:59 PM. Click here to comment on this page