Pink-Footed Goose

Anser brachyrhynchus

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 Goose

Pink-Footed Goose

Pink-Footed Goose swimming

Pink-Footed Goose swimming

Portrait of a Pink-Footed Goose

Portrait of a Pink-Footed Goose

Pink-Footed Goose in natural habitat

Pink-Footed Goose in natural habitat

Pink-Footed Goose standing on ice

Pink-Footed Goose standing on ice

Appearance & Identification

What do Pink-footed Geese look like?

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 Goose walking through grassland

How big are Pink-footed Geese?

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.

  • Length: 60 cm to 76 cm (23 in to 30 in)
  • Wingspan: 135 cm to 160 cm (53 in to 63 in)
  • Weight: 2.2 kg to 2.7 kg (4.9 lb to 6 lb)
Pink-Footed Goose foraging in natural habitat

Pink-Footed Goose foraging in natural habitat

Calls & Sounds

What sound does a Pink-footed Goose make?

The honking call of a pink-footed goose is relatively high in pitch and sounds squeakier and less cackling than the sounds made by greylag geese and bean geese.

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

Pair of Pink-Footed Geese swimming in open water

Diet

What do Pink-footed Geese eat?

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.

What do Pink-footed Goose chicks eat?

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

Pair of Pink-Footed Geese feeding

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a Pink-footed Goose?

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.

What is the range of a Pink-footed Goose?

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.

Where do Pink-footed Geese live?

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

Flock of Pink-Footed Geese

How rare are 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.

Where can you see Pink-footed Geese in the UK?

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.

Are Pink-footed Geese ever spotted in North America?

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

Pink-Footed Goose standing by the water

Lifespan & Predation

How long do Pink-footed Geese live?

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.

What are the predators of Pink-footed Geese?

Arctic foxes are the leading predator of pink-footed geese nests. Opportunistic raids on nests may also be carried out by corvids and gulls.

Are Pink-footed Geese protected in the UK?

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.

Are Pink-footed Geese endangered?

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

Pink-Footed Goose looking over natural habitat

Nesting & Breeding

Where do Pink-footed Geese nest?

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.

When do Pink-footed Geese nest?

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.

What do Pink-footed Goose eggs look like?

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.

Do Pink-footed Geese mate for life?

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.

<p><strong>Pair of Pink-Footed Geese at nesting site</strong></p>

Pair of Pink-Footed Geese at nesting site

<p><strong>Two Pink-Footed Geese chicks</strong></p>

Two Pink-Footed Geese chicks

Behaviour

Are Pink-footed Geese aggressive?

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

Flock of Pink-Footed Geese near the water

Migration

Do Pink-footed Geese migrate?

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.

Are Pink-footed Geese native to the UK?

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.

When do Pink-footed Geese arrive in the UK?

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 Goose in-flight

FAQs

What is the difference between a greylag goose and a pink-footed goose?

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.

Enjoyed this content? Share it now

Quick Facts

Classification

Scientific name:

Anser brachyrhynchus

Family:

Ducks, geese and swans

Conservation status:

Amber

Measurements

Length:

60cm to 76cm

Wingspan:

135cm to 160cm

Weight:

2.2kg to 2.7kg

Learn more about the Pink-Footed Goose

Other birds in the Ducks, geese and swans family

Get the best of Birdfact

Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.

Your information will be used in accordance with Birdfact's privacy policy. You may opt out at any time.

© 2023 - Birdfact. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.