Mergus merganser (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Anseriformes > Anatidae
Females and juveniles have a gingery-orange head and grey body, the two sharply delineated, males a glossy green head, blood-red beak, black on the wings and back contrasting with a white body, tinged salmon-pink in the breeding season.
First colonising Scotland in c.1871, Goosanders have dramatically increased in numbers and range, occupying most river catchments in Scotland, Wales and Northern England.
Goosanders are generally found diving for fish and aquatic invertebrates on rivers and lochs, with females moving downstream to estuaries and the coast with ducklings once they have hatched. Goosanders nests in tree cavities and have used larger nest boxes.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Goosander
Goosander identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Goosander.
Identifying the two large sawbills, Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser, can be pretty straight-forward when confronted with male birds. However, the females, or redheads as they are more often called, can be much more difficult. This video gives useful pointers on how to confidently tell them apart.
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Goosander, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
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Status and Trends
Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.
This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.
Goosanders were first discovered to have colonised the UK in Perthshire in 1871, and spread from Scotland into northern England in the 1940s (Holloway 1996). Between the first two breeding atlases, the species expanded its range in northern England, and colonised Wales and southwest England. WBS samples became large enough for annual monitoring in 1980, and show sustained population increase, apart from a slight dip in the late 1990s. The BTO's two national surveys of sawbills demonstrated an average increase in population size of 3% per annum between 1987 and 1997 (Rehfisch et al. 1999). There has been considerable further range expansion since 1990 (Balmer et al. 2013). Reasons for the colonisation of the UK, and the subsequent range expansion and population increase, are unknown. The species' winter trend in Britain, comprising British breeders and continental visitors, rose steeply from the late 1960s and peaked in the mid 1990s, before falling back, and now stands at early 1990s levels (WeBS: Frost et al. 2020).
|UK breeding population||No population change in UK (1995–2020)|
|UK winter population||-25% decrease (1995/96 to 2020/21)|
Goosanders breed throughout Scotland, northern England, south to Derbyshire, Wales, the Marches and Devon. In winter, they occupy rivers and a wide range of freshwater bodies throughout Britain, as well as some western and northern estuaries. They are largely absent from upland areas in northern Scotland and from parts of southern and eastern England.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||871|
|% occupied in breeding season||29|
|No. occupied in winter||1896|
|% occupied in winter||63|
European Distribution Map
The winter range of the Goosander has increased by 87% since the 1981–84 Winter Atlas. Gains are apparent throughout and are particularly noticeable in Ireland, Wales and central and southern England.
Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK
|% change in range in breeding season (1968–72 to 2008–11)||+111.9%|
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+82.1%|
Goosanders are present year-round, with higher reporting in winter when they can be seen at large waterbodies.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
An overview of year-round movements for the whole of Europe can be seen on the EuroBirdPortal viewer.
Lifecycle and body size information about Goosander, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
|Number of Broods||1|
|Egg Size||68×46 mm Weight = 82 g (of which 10% is shell)|
View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report
|Maximum Age from Ringing||9 years 6 months 28 days (set in 1984)|
|Typical Lifespan||7 years with breeding typically at 2 year|
|Field Codes||2-letter: GD | 5-letter code: GOOSA | Euring: 2230|
For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name
Interpretation and scientific publications about Goosander from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
There is little good evidence available regarding the drivers of the breeding population increase in this species in the UK.
Further information on causes of change
No further information is available.
Information about conservation actions
Goosander is currently increasing both its population and its range in the UK and hence specific conservation action is not currently required. The species breeds along rivers so the continuation of policies to maintain and improve water quality are likely to benefit this species. It is a hole nesting species and provision of nest boxes may therefore also help support the Goosander.
Conflict with anglers may become a problem should the population continue to increase. Therefore, appropriate discussions with anglers and other stakeholders may be required in the future to ensure policies are in place which ensure the ongoing conservation of the species.
Abundance, distribution and habitat use of Goosanders Mergus merganser and Red-breasted Mergansers Mergus serrator on British rivers
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