Although the pink-footed goose does not breed in Britain, it is a common winter visitor, with over half a million migrating individuals arriving each autumn from breeding grounds in Iceland, Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard peninsula.
Pink-footed geese have a mid-brown head, a tan neck, and a greyish-brown back. A thin white stripe is visible across their flanks and their chest is buffy-white. Their rump and undertail are both white. As their name suggests, their feet are pink, and they have a short stubby bill, which is mostly black, but features a small pink patch across the centre.
Male and female pink-footed geese are alike in appearance, although females are often noticeably smaller.
Juveniles are also similar to adults in appearance, but smaller in size with a slightly darker and duller plumage. Their legs and feet are a less vibrant pink than those of adult birds. However, by the end of their first winter, it becomes more difficult to distinguish younger birds from adults.
After the young have fledged, adults undergo a full moult and replace their entire set of flight feathers. Up to a month is spent roosting on water and grazing on fields and tundra until they are capable of flight again.
Pink-Footed Goose walking through grassland
Pink-footed geese are slightly smaller in size and weight than the similar-looking greylag geese. Males are generally larger than females, with measurements across both sexes falling into the range below.
Pink-Footed Goose foraging in natural habitat
Males have a higher-pitched honk than females, while the calls of juvenile pink-footed geese are especially squeaky-sounding.
Pair of Pink-Footed Geese swimming in open water
The diet of pink-footed geese consists of cereal crops and grains, as well as roots, shoots, berries and seeds.
In winter, cultivated fields offer prime foraging grounds for root crops such as potatoes, carrots and sugar beet. Stems, leaves, catkins, mosses and grasses are particularly important in spring.
Young pink-footed geese follow their parents to forage for their own food shortly after hatching, surviving on an early diet of grasses and plant matter.
Pair of Pink-Footed Geese feeding
The preferred breeding habitat of pink-footed geese includes rocky Arctic tundra landscapes, small islets and steep ledges alongside seabird colonies.
Feeding grounds are found nearby, particularly flooded meadows and cultivated fields for grazing.
Once breeding is complete, open agricultural land and coastal estuaries become of greater importance, and lowland landscapes are favoured.
Pink-footed geese breed exclusively along the east coast of Greenland, across Iceland and throughout the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Circle.
In autumn, they leave these northern territories, heading for Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, northern Germany and Denmark. Passage sightings are common in Norway.
Countries with the largest breeding populations of pink-footed geese are Iceland (up to 50,000 pairs), eastern Greenland, with an estimated 350,000 birds (2008 data) and Norway’s Arctic Svalbard peninsula, with upwards of 80,000 birds.
The British Isles are the species’ chief overwintering destination, welcoming an influx of an estimated 510,000 pink-footed geese each autumn.
Flock of Pink-Footed Geese
During the breeding season, sightings of pink-footed geese anywhere within the UK would be considered incredibly rare, as they do not raise their young here, and only return to Britain in the autumn to spend the winter months there.
During winter, sightings become far more commonplace, with more than half a million pink-footed geese arriving from Iceland, Greenland and the Arctic landscapes of the Svalbard archipelago.
Scotland and northern and eastern England are among the most common regions for large numbers of pink-footed geese to congregate in winter months.
Large estuaries along the east Scottish coast are prime spots for a large-scale sighting, for example, the Montrose Basin, where more than 85,000 individuals were recorded in 2015.
Further south into England, regions along The Wash, the Ribble and the Solway offer a good chance of sightings of pink-footed geese as autumn progresses.
On the rarest of occasions, vagrant pink-footed geese have made their way to North America during their winter migrations, ending up in destinations in the north-eastern US and eastern Canada.
Pink-Footed Goose standing by the water
The estimated average lifespan for a pink-footed goose range from between 8 and 22 years in the wild, with ringed individuals recorded to have reached an age of 38 years and 7 months.
Pink-footed geese are not kept or bred in captivity. First-time breeding occurs at 3 years of age, with rare reports of breeding in the second year.
Arctic foxes are the leading predator of pink-footed geese nests. Opportunistic raids on nests may also be carried out by corvids and gulls.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, offers protection to the species in the UK, making it an offence to knowingly kill, injure or take an individual pink-footed goose into captivity.
Additionally, pink-footed geese are listed as Schedule I birds under the same act, which means that if breeding does occur, it is illegal to disturb, destroy or damage a pink-footed goose’s nest site and eggs.
Despite being considered a species of least concern worldwide, pink-footed geese are classified with Amber status on the list of British Birds of Conservation Concern in the UK due to the importance of the country as a wintering ground for the entire population of the species.
Pink-Footed Goose looking over natural habitat
Loose nesting colonies are common for breeding pink-footed geese, with up to 10 pairs establishing nests in fairly close proximity to one another.
Nests are built directly onto ice-free tundra, with shallow scrapes used as a foundation and built up into larger structures of plant matter lined with a thick layer of down.
Cliffs and small islets are popular nest locations, benefitting from some protection against predators.
The breeding season for pink-footed geese changes slightly according to location. In Iceland, laying begins from early May onwards, while in Greenland and Svalbard late May to early June is most common.
Pairs raise one brood a year, and the young remain with their parents in a larger family group until the following spring.
A typical clutch for breeding pink-footed geese consists of 3 to 5 plain white or straw-coloured eggs, which measure 78 mm by 52 mm (3.1 in by 2.0 in).
Eggs are incubated by the female alone for between 25 and 30 days, while the male remains nearby to guard the nest and his mate.
Pink-footed geese form monogamous, long-term pair bonds and are thought to mate for life after they find a mate for the first time at the age of three years.
Pair of Pink-Footed Geese at nesting site
Two Pink-Footed Geese chicks
In some urban environments, pink-footed geese are considered a pest species due to their aggressive behaviour and the mess they create.
Hissing and aggressive approaches to other geese, as well as to humans, are not uncommon if they feel their nest site, young or mate are under threat.
Once their young have hatched and they have completed their annual summer moult, pink-footed geese are a highly sociable species, gathering in large flocks with other geese, and frequently raising young collectively, offering protection to any goslings that may have become parted from their parents.
Flock of Pink-Footed Geese near the water
Pink-footed geese are fully migratory, spending summers breeding in Greenland, Iceland, and the Svalbard islands in the Arctic Ocean.
In winter, populations from all locations move south until the harshest temperatures ease, with Greenland and Iceland’s breeding birds heading to Britain, and pink-footed geese that breed in Svalbard spending winters in mainland Europe, from Belgium to Denmark.
Although pink-footed geese spend winters in the UK, their breeding grounds are located further north, in Iceland and western Greenland. No breeding pairs remain in the wild in Britain all year round.
Arrivals of pink-footed geese in the UK increase from September onwards, once their breeding season at northern locations is complete. Wintering birds remain in the UK until the following April when they return north to breed.
Pink-Footed Goose in-flight
Pink-footed geese are smaller and more compact than greylag geese and have a higher-pitched call.
Greylag geese are present in the UK all year round, while pink-footed geese are temporary winter residents, arriving from northern breeding grounds each autumn. Greylag geese are also far more common than pink-footed geese.
In terms of appearance, the two species are similar and easily confused in the field, particularly from a distance.
Close up, the difference between the two is more obvious: greylag geese have a solid orange-pink bill, while in pink-footed geese, the bill is shorter and mainly black, with a small pink section in the middle.
Family:Ducks, geese and swans
60cm to 76cm
135cm to 160cm
2.2kg to 2.7kg
The Eurasian wigeon is a medium dabbling duck that commonly breeds across northern Europe, and winters further south, including in the British Isles and occasionally in North America. Rare vagrant breeding pairs can be found in the United States, and small breeding grounds have also been established in northern England and Scotland.
This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
Greater White-Fronted Goose
One of several similar wildfowl species in the Anser genus, Greater White-fronted Geese live up to their name with a distinctive white patch on the front of their face. The species is extremely widespread, although there are several sub-species, each with different breeding and overwintering ranges.
Larger than the Common Scoter this elegant European diving duck spends much of its time at sea and is often seen in company with mixed flocks resting on the water’s surface far out from land.
Tundra Bean Goose
The tundra bean goose is the most common species of bean goose, and breeds on Russian tundra landscapes. Winters are spent grazing on open fields, marshes and agricultural land in western and central Europe and East Asia.
The Tufted Duck is the UK’s most common diving duck and a familiar sight on lakes and ponds across the country. Known for their long, hair-like tufts, these small waterfowl are fairly easy to identify but may be confused with other ducks from the Aythya genus.
Fast and erratic in flight, the Teal is the United Kingdom’s smallest wildfowl species. Despite occurring year-round in low numbers, birdwatchers are most likely to spot these tiny ducks in the winter when large numbers arrive from abroad.
Taiga Bean Goose
Taiga bean geese are a common sight on northern taiga marshes of Siberia and northern Scandinavia in spring and summer, before heading south into Europe each winter. Several hundred individuals spend winters in the UK, with rare vagrant visitors occasionally reported in North America.
One of seven American goose species, the Snow Goose is a noisy migrant that visits the Lower 48 states each winter. These beautiful birds have increased dramatically since the second half of the 20th century.
Despite being only a rare winter visitor to the British Isles, the Smew is one of the countrys most unmistakable and easily identified duck species. Breeding across Central Asia and returning to Western Europe during winter months, smews begin to turn up on inland lakes as well as in coastal regions from November onwards.
One look at the bill of a northern shoveler should be enough to provide you with an accurate species identification: their flattened shovel-like bills are unique among waterfowl and allow them to feed on tiny plankton by sweeping their heads across the water’s surface.
A large colourful duck, often found in coastal areas, the shelduck, is an established breeding waterbird in the UK. British wetlands are also a major wintering ground for the species, hosting up to 30 percent of Europe’s shelduck population each autumn.
A medium-sized diving duck, the greater scaup is known simply as the scaup in Europe, and locally as the ‘bluebill’ in North America. Only a handful of scaup breed in the UK, making it the rarest breeding duck in the British Isles.
A striking and fascinating little diving duck with an unusual courtship display, the Ruddy Duck is a widespread migrant in North America.
Colourful and instantly recognisable diving ducks, red-crested pochards are present in the UK in small numbers, believed to have initially been introduced into the wild from private wildfowl collections. Some breeding does occur in Britain, although the best chance of a sighting comes with the arrival of several hundred migrants each winter.
A speedy migratory wildfowl with a hardcore hairstyle, the Red-breasted Merganser is widespread in coastal and estuarine habitats across the Northern Hemisphere.
During the winter the population of this rare resident breeding duck increases by 55 times to that of the summer, with the influx of many thousands of others overwintering, having arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, Northern Pintails are distinctive migratory waterfowl. Drakes in breeding plumage are particularly attractive, although the drabber females and non-breeding males are still identifiable by their long necks and graceful form.
One of the world’s heaviest flying birds, and one of the most beautiful too, the Mute Swan is a majestic waterfowl with a mean reputation.
Sightings of wild Mandarin Ducks in the United States cause quite a stir, and it’s easy to see why. These small but eye-catching waterfowl are, in fact, native to the Far East of Asia, although their popularity as an ornamental species has resulted in their introduction to many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom.
Instantly recognizable, the Mallard is a medium-sized dabbling duck that is familiar to people all over the world. These adaptable waterfowl are the ancestor of the modern domestic duck and are found everywhere from remote wilderness lakes to suburban backyards.
One of the most distinctive duck breeds, thanks to their extended streaming tail feathers, the long-tailed duck is a coastal waterbird that spends winters at sea, foraging for crustaceans in marine waters, after breeding on Arctic tundra landscapes.
The Greylag goose is the largest grey goose from the Anser genus of the Anatidae family of waterbirds. A stout, robust and heavyweight bird, the Greylag goose is the closest wild relative and ancestor to the domestic goose. Greylag geese are distributed across much of Europe and Asia, extending into eastern Russia and China. Most populations migrate, but some are sedentary, including in much of Northern Europe.
Widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, the common merganser is the largest of the saw billed fish eating ducks. There are three sub-species with the Eurasian variant frequently known as the Goosander.
Goldeneyes are distinctive diving ducks that thrive in cold environments, breeding in boreal forests across Canada, northern Scandinavia and northern Russia. Only when the lakes and coastal areas on their summer territories begin to freeze over as fall approaches do they begin to head south to milder regions where they spend winter months foraging on inland lakes and around sheltered bays.
The Gargeney is a dabbling duck, slightly smaller than a mallard, and considered a rare breeder in the UK, with just over 100 pairs recorded. A fully migratory species, all garganeys spend winters in southern Africa, leaving breeding grounds as early as July, so your window for spotting one on British waters is only a very brief one.
The Gadwall is a widely distributed dabbling duck of the Anatidae family that breeds in the Northern Hemisphere. This hardy duck breeds as far north as Siberia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and coastal Alaska and is found across both the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
The common eider (Somateria mollissima) is a large and widespread sea duck that is perhaps best known for its valuable insulating down feathers.
Regarded as being sacred by early Egyptians, this native goose of the African continent was introduced into Europe and elsewhere as an ornamental wildfowl species in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century.
The word scoter is often used to define northern sea ducks. There are six different species of scoter, all of which are monotypic and three of which are confined to North America. The Common Scoter like the Velvet Scoter can only be found in Europe and Asia whilst the Stejneger’s Scoter is a native of Asia alone.
Once decimated through overhunting and habitat destruction, the Canada Goose has rebounded to become one of North America’s most abundant and familiar wildfowl.
A small goose species with a short, stubby bill, the brent goose (or brant, as it is known in North America), breeds in the high Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Siberian Russia and northern Europe’s Arctic islands. Brant spend winters along North America’s Pacific coast, part of the east coast of the US, and in north-western Europe, from the British Isles to Denmark.
A subspecies of the North American tundra swan, Bewick’s swans breed in Siberia and arrive in the UK each autumn. Worrying declines have been observed in the European population in recent years, and today only around 4,350 individuals migrate to the UK each winter.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.