Gooseness gracious!

David Tipling/2020VISION

In early October, as the first snowflakes fell in the Arctic, one of the great wildlife migration spectacles began…

In early October, as the first snowflakes fell in the Arctic, one of the great wildlife migration spectacles began… wild geese began to return to their wintering grounds.

The entire Icelandic breeding population of pink-footed geese, totalling over 360,000 birds, return to the UK for the winter. Joining them are barnacle geese returning from northeast Greenland, Svalbard, northwest Russia and the Baltic region. The journeys that these species undertake is incredible.

We are extremely lucky in Yorkshire to be at the focal point of this migration, with so many opportunities to witness these wonderful birds in the wild, especially at this time of year.

Here are some species you may spot this winter: 

Pink-footed geese (c) David Tipling/2020VISION

(c) David Tipling/2020VISION

Pink-footed geese

The UK is home to over 80% of the world’s pink-foot population. This medium-sized goose has a greyish-brown body with a darker chocolate-brown head and neck. Both the bill and legs are pink, differentiating it from the similar bean goose that has an orange bill and legs.

Early morning, long ‘V’ formation skeins of geese take off from coastal mudflats and fly inland to feed. Huge numbers have been seen wintering on the Humber estuary this season - over 6,000 are being seen regularly going west over Hull!

If you are near a flightpath, listen out for the characteristic loud honking call to announce the presence of a V of pink-footed geese flying overhead!

David Tipling/2020VISION

Barnacle geese (c) David Tipling/2020VISION

Barnacle geese

Hundreds of years ago, people believed these geese were born from crustaceans called barnacles – hence their name. Barnacle geese nest on high cliff tops where their eggs are safe from predators.

However, there is no food up high, so when the goslings hatch they must jump off the cliff face and fall to the ground below. Surprisingly, most survive and follow their parents to their feeding grounds! The barnacle goose is one of the UK’s smallest geese and is identified by its black head, neck and breast and white face. 

Brent goose (c) David Tipling

Brent Geese (c) David Tipling/2020VISION

Brent geese

The brent goose is split into three subspecies: dark-bellied, light-bellied, and black. It is a small goose with a black head and neck and grey-brown back; with either a pale or dark belly depending on the race. Adults also have a small white neck patch.

There is a wintering population of 95,000 birds in the UK! Brent geese typically populate the outer Humber but have started to feed farther inland on the fields of the Wolds, where they can be spotted on agricultural land looking for grass and winter cereals.

We manage many wetland nature reserves (including North Cave and Kilnsea wetlands in the East, and Wheldrake Ings and Bolton-on-Swale in the North) for the benefit of the wildlife they support, and work closely with farmers and landowners to encourage sensitive farming for the benefit of wildlife.

You can help support geese and other wetland wildlife by becoming a member.