Anser anser (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Anseriformes > Anatidae
One of our more common goose species, the large, orange-billed Greylag Goose can be found wherever there is water.
Britain & Ireland support two Greylag Goose populations, one of which is resident and one of which is made up of wintering birds. It is now impossible to separate our resident native population, which is located in north-west Scotland, from the naturalized birds that have their origin in domesticated flocks because the latter have greatly increased in numbers and range.
These birds are joined by migrant Greylags from Iceland, which winter across Scotland and Ireland, and small numbers of individuals from mainland Europe.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Greylag Goose
Greylag Goose identification is usually straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Greylag Goose.
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Greylag Goose, 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.
Apart from an indigenous population in northwest Scotland and the Western Isles, and winter visitors mainly from Iceland, the Greylag Goose is a re-established species throughout the UK. Re-established Greylags increased very rapidly, at a rate estimated at 12% per annum in southern Britain between the 1988-91 Atlas period and 1999 (Rehfisch et al. 2002). This equates across Britain to 170%, or 9.4% per annum, in the period to 2000 (Austin et al. 2007). In Scotland, the native population has grown at an annual rate of 11.7% since 1997 and the re-established birds at 9.7% per annum since 1989 (Mitchell et al. 2011). It has become impossible to distinguish native from re-established populations and they are best now treated as a single unit (Mitchell et al. 2012). The WBS sample became large enough for annual monitoring in 1992, since when further steep increase has been recorded along linear waterways which has only recently began to show signs of levelling off. Annual breeding-season monitoring in a wider range of habitats through BBS has shown similar strong increases. Winter counts of resident birds have increased rapidly since the late 1960s (WeBS: Frost et al. 2020). Expanding populations of geese, including indigenous Scottish Greylag Geese, are creating a number of economic, social and environmental challenges and, increasingly, adaptive policies are required to manage native goose populations (Bainbridge 2017).
|UK breeding population||+180% increase (1995–2020)|
|UK winter population||+35% increase (1995/96 to 2020/21)|
It is evident from the winter distribution that the three populations that occur in Britain & Ireland in winter now overlap to such an extent that in many places it is impossible to separate resident native, re-established and Icelandic wintering birds. All favour low-lying agricultural land, though the early return of some birds to marginal upland breeding sites in February disrupts the pattern.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||1708|
|% occupied in breeding season||57|
|No. occupied in winter||1943|
|% occupied in winter||64|
European Distribution Map
Breeding Season Habitats
|Most frequent in||Reedbed|
Relative frequency by habitat
The increase in range of the resident populations is clearly seen in the breeding distribution change map, which shows a 138% increase in range size since the 1988–91 Breeding Atlas.
Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK
|% change in range in breeding season (1968–72 to 2008–11)||+719.7%|
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+89.9%|
Greylag Geese are present year-round with winter populations supplemented by migrants.
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 Greylag Goose, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
|Number of Broods||1|
|Egg Size||86×58 mm Weight = 160 g (of which 13% is shell)|
View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report
|Maximum Age from Ringing||19 years 7 months 4 days (set in 2018)|
|Typical Lifespan||8 years with breeding typically at 3 year|
|Juvenile Survival||0.56 (to age 3)|
|Wing Length||Adults||448.1±17.6 | Range 420–477mm, N=1203|
|Juveniles||431.3±15.1 | Range 407-455mm, N=857|
|Males||458.8±13.7 | Range 436–481mm, N=596|
|Females||436.3±13.4 | Range 415–460mm, N=564|
|Body Weight||Adults||3.34±0.35 | Range 2.80–3.90kg, N=1149|
|Juveniles||2920±339.6153 | Range 2400–3460g, N=820|
|Males||3.49±0.31 | Range 3.00–4.00kg, N=568|
|Females||3.18±0.31 | Range 2.70–3.80kg, N=539|
Feather measurements and photos on featherbase
|Field Codes||2-letter: GJ | 5-letter code: GREGO | Euring: 1610|
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Interpretation and scientific publications about Greylag Goose 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. However, the initial rapid increases following introduction may have been aided by lack of intraspecific competition and the ability of this species to exploit a previously unoccupied habitat, before density-dependent effects began to occur.
Further information on causes of change
No further information is available.
Information about conservation actions
The Greylag Goose is a re-introduced resident species across most of the UK, although native populations have persisted in north-west Scotland. Following successful conservation actions, including protection under the First Schedule of the Protection of Birds Act (1954) and grant-aided site management including re-sowing to improve foraging areas, the native breeding population has recovered (Mitchell et al. 2012). The introduced populations in the UK have increased rapidly. As a consequence, these two populations have merged and hence it is no longer practical to treat them, or wintering Icelandic birds, separately for conservation purposes (Mitchell et al. 2012). The situation is further complicated by the fact that non-native populations could potentially have an impact on populations of other native species.
Policies designed to protect feeding habitat for wintering geese, such as paying compensation to farmers for damage to crops (MacMillan et al. 2004; Fox & Madsen 2017) could have partly contributed to the population increases and continuation of such policies could hence enable ongoing protection. In the breeding season, a Danish study found that intermediate aged reedbeds (of between five and 11 years) supported the highest densities of nesting birds (Kristiansen 1998). Other actions to improve and create wetland habitats are also likely to help the species and provide suitable breeding habitat.
However, the population increases have led to increased conflict with landowners due to the effect of large numbers of geese on crops, and recent research has consequently focused on this conflict and on measures to regulate the numbers of geese at a sustainable level which takes both conservation and agricultural interests into account (MacMillan et al. 2004; MacMillan & Leader-Williams 2008; Fox & Madsen 2017). A Dutch study found that culling adult birds was more effective than egg pricking in reducing numbers (van Turnhout et al. 2010); however culling as a means of control can be controversial (Shirley 2010; Frith 2010).
A review of goose management policy in Scotland in 2010 recognised the success of previous policies but suggested that there may be a need to place more emphasis in some areas on minimising economic losses and ensuring that policies are cost-effective (Crabtree et al. 2010). NatureScot is now working with local management groups to test adaptive approaches to goose management in Scotland including sustainable culling.
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