Saturday 15 June
Greylag goose (Anser anser)
Greylag goose fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Greylag goose description
If you see a wild grey goose in the UK outside the winter months, it will almost certainly be the greylag goose (Anser anser). The only other ‘wild’ goose seen throughout the year, and the only one apart from the greylag to breed in Britain, is the Canada goose, an introduced species. The greylag is a big bird with broad wings, and looks heavy in flight. From a distance, the birds appear a uniform grey-brown but a closer view reveals more subtle tones of brown and grey. The birds also have barring on back, breast and neck. The underside of the tail is white. Birds from different parts of their range show slight variations in colouration. Siberian birds have a slightly lighter heads and paler fringes to the dark plumage on their backs. They also have bills which are pinker in colour than the orange bills of the European birds. Both subspecies, however, have dull pink feet and legs. Greylags are the ancestors of most domesticated geese, although the Chinese swan goose is descended from the wild swan goose found in eastern Asia.
- Wingspan: 149 - 168 cm
- Body length: 74 - 84 cm
Greylag goose biology
In the UK, greylag geese breed from the beginning of April to May, laying usually five to eight eggs in a large nest amongst floating vegetation or hidden in reeds. The incubation period is about 28 days and, unlike many species of waterfowl, the male goose or gander stays with the family group. Geese, in fact, have a more cohesive family unit than ducks and both parents guard the goslings against attacks from other birds or predatory mammals. The greylag goose family continues to remain together throughout the year and will migrate from their wintering grounds as a group within a larger flock. Only when the adult birds are ready to establish a new breeding territory will the gander drive off the previous year’s young birds.
Geese are primarily grazing birds, although they also take grain, root crops and leafy vegetation. Geese have relatively short bills, and prefer pasture or meadows that are grazed by cattle or sheep. A flock of geese will work their away across the fields, nibbling the more nutritious growing shoots of the grass or cereal crop. Grass, by itself, is not particularly high in nutrients, and geese have to eat almost continuously in order to gain any nourishment from it. To allow these bulky birds to be able to take-off in an emergency, they process this grass at a remarkable rate. The birds defecate almost continuously whilst grazing so that their gut is not weighed down with food and they can still make a quick getaway if danger threatens.Top
Greylag goose range
Greylag geese are a migratory species and their breeding and wintering range extends across much of Europe and Asia. Greylags breed in Iceland, around the North Sea and Baltic coasts of Scandinavia, Finland and Northern Europe, and southwards through central Eastern Europe and western Russia as far south as the Black Sea. Winter populations range from the Iberian east coast, across southern Europe and Asia Minor, through the Himalayas and Thailand to the China Sea.Top
Greylag goose habitat
This species can be found in an extremely varied range of habitats, more than many other geese, in fact. Greylag geese frequent lakes and meres, brackish coastal waters, arable farmland and pasture, freshwater and saltwater marsh, and cereal fields including winter-grown fields.Top
Greylag goose status
The greylag goose is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) in the UK.Top
Greylag goose threats
Geese generally have been a human quarry species for centuries, and greylag geese are still shot in large numbers throughout their range. Although many birds are killed for sport, or to provide food, they are also shot due to the damage they can cause to crops by grazing in huge flocks. Furthermore, the birds’ populations suffered badly from the drainage of their wetland habitats during the middle of the 20th century and from the effects of industrial and agricultural pollution.Top
Greylag goose conservation
In recent years, greylag goose populations have been on the increase across Europe. The UK has a resident population thought to number a few hundred pairs, but the winter population swells to around 100,000 birds as flocks migrate from Iceland and northern Europe. Greylag geese enjoy protection in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) but can be shot during the wildfowling season between 1 September and 31 January. In December 2002, the Wetlands International Specialist Goose Group meeting in Spain expressed uncertainties about the status of the European greylag populations. Using current counting methods, it appears greylag numbers are slowly declining although they are still ‘stable’. Accurate figures for game bags are hard to obtain in many cases, but it has been suggested there may be problems with overshooting in some countries.Top
Find out more
For more information on the greylag geese and other bird species:Top
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- Slightly salty water, usually a mixture of salt and freshwater, such as that found in estuaries.
- The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
- An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.