Greylag Goose (Anser anser)



Greylag Geese © Richard Steel

Greylag Geese © Richard Steel

The map shows that the winter distribution of Greylag Geese is similar to that for the breeding season, suggesting that they are not likely to move far. Indeed, a characteristic of some flocks of Greylags is that they can be found from week to week in exactly the same spot. Some birds do move around, though, and there were 49 tetrads newly occupied in winter, as well as 53 with the species present in the breeding season only; observers also submitted 22 records of birds in flight, not mapped in this Atlas.

They feed on any plant material, including roots, tubers, shoots and leaves, both in water and on land, but are seldom far from a waterbody on which to take refuge if danger threatens. There are a few records on the Dee and Mersey saltmarshes but they are less likely than Canada Geese to move onto estuarine waters outside the breeding season. The winter habitat codes showed 57% of records on freshwater, almost all of them small waterbodies, meres and sand quarries, with only four records on rivers and canals; 28% on farmland, all on improved or unimproved grassland apart from two records on stubble; and 10% on grazing marsh or saltmarsh.

The species’ growth in the county has paralleled a steady climb in their national population. The WeBS index for the re-established population of Greylag Geese was at its highest ever in 2004/ 05, having risen almost fivefold in twenty years (Banks et al 2006). Nationally, 30 sites had five-year peak means over 500, and 46 sites over 400, but none in Cheshire and Wirral has reached those levels. By far the largest flocks were on the Dee floods above Chester, with the maximum exceeding 500 birds in 2004/ 05 and 2005/ 06. At the other extreme, half of the flocks counted for this Atlas were of ten birds or fewer, possibly just one family.

The previous scarcity of Greylag Geese was emphasised in the county avifaunas. Coward & Oldham (1900) remarked on the species’ great rarity: they knew of only three records during the 19th century. Bell (1962) traced sixteen published records from 1910, usually of single birds or small skeins of less than ten, most of them between November and February, but commented that, as the species is commonly kept in captivity, the possibility of escapes cannot be ignored. Later, Bell (1967) could find no breeding or wintering records ascribable to genuinely wild birds. All of the present population derived originally from captive birds, but most of them now are living in the wild.

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