The Greenland White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons flavirostris is one of four subspecies of the Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons. The species is fully migratory and is a winter visitor to Ireland from Arctic breeding grounds in Greenland. The Irish wintering population has very limited geographic range and no overlap with other races, breeding solely in west Greenland, migrating in spring and autumn through south and west Iceland to wintering grounds in the north and west of Scotland, west Wales, and the island of Ireland. The population of Greenland White-front Geese is small and their world range limited. Out of 34 formerly known traditional Irish wintering flocks, 8 are now extinct and a further 17 are considered to be highly threatened. Greenland White-fronted Geese populations are monitored through the Irish Wetland Bird Survey (I-WeBS). It is noted that Greenland White-fronted Geese numbers have been fluctuating in recent years in Ireland with the I-WeBS data for 2009 / 2010 showing declines at some nationally important sites.
Greenland White-fronted Geese are categorised as ’Endangered’ using the IUCN‘s global Red List criteria; are listed in Column A of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) Action Plan; on Appendix II of the Bonn Convention (CMS);and on Annex I of the EU Directive on the conservation of wild birds. In Ireland they are also amber listed as the majority of the population winter at less than ten sites. The habitats of a significant proportion of the population are protected in Ireland, UK and Greenland. Such sites are designated both under national legislation as well as EU Birds Directive Special Protection Areas and as Ramsar sites. Greenland White-fronted Geese are selected as a conservation interest for a number of Special Protection Area’s in Ireland. The Greenland White-fronted Goose breeds in single pairs or loose groups from late-May or early-June at their breeding grounds in low-Arctic west Greenland. In autumn, temperatures in the northern reaches of their range begin to drop and conditions become cold and harsh, with food becoming scarce. As plant life in Greenland becomes dormant for the winter, the geese will make their way to milder climes in search of other food sources. They arrive in Britain and Ireland around October. Greenland White-fronted Geese are extremely site-faithful in winter with birds observed in successive winters to return to the same small number of regularly used sites.
The Greenland White-fronted Goose is confined to roughly 80 regular sites in Ireland and Britain. Because of their high levels of site fidelity, there is limited potential for colonising new areas, re-colonising of deserted sites, or large-scale immigration from other areas to supplement declining flocks although exchange of individuals does occur regularly. The species is highly gregarious outside of the breeding season, with flocks of up to 9,000 individuals known to occur at Wexford Slobs. However, the geese are more commonly observed in small loose groups due to the patchiness of the preferred habitat. Flocks are generally small and range in size from 100 to 750 birds. Greenland White-fronted Geese usually forage within 20km of their roosting grounds, although the optimum distance travelled to foraging grounds may be much less than this with birds recorded to fly less than 4 km in Scotland.The populations of this species traditionally winter on lowland peatlands (both raised and blanket bogs) in Britain and Ireland. These geese forage exclusively on various bog plants. More recently, these geese have adapted to using grasslands under a variety of intensities of management (e.g. improved grassland, stubble fields and wet meadows). Through much of its wintering range it is more typical for wintering flocks to occur on less-intensively managed grasslands, including callows in Ireland. Greenland White-fronted Geese are an herbivorous species. Their diet consists primarily of the roots, leaves, stems, seeds and fruits of terrestrial plants such as herbs, grasses and sedges. In addition, they are also known to feed on agricultural grain (e.g. corn, oats, wheat, and barley), potatoes and sprouting cereals (especially in the winter).
Habitat loss and degradation is a major global threat to Greenland White-fronted Geese. In particular, disturbance by humans, wetland habitat degradation due to drainage, peat-extraction and changing management practices are threats to the feeding and roosting habitats used by this species across its range. Collision impacts with inappropriately located wind energy developments are identified as a potential threat, with a prerogative on appropriate survey and impact assessment . Collision risk with wind turbines is assessed as a local risk with regard to the international population of this species; however, it is recognised that at smaller scales (for example at individual sites or nationally) these, and other factors, may pose significantly higher threat risks to national or local status. Greenland White-fronted Geese mortalities may also arise from flying accidents (including collisions with overhead lines). Unsustainable hunting pressures are also identified as threats facing the international population of this species; however it is noted with regard to hunting that this species is now legally protected through nearly all of their world range.
Greenland White-fronted Geese gained protection from hunting on their wintering grounds in Ireland and UK in 1982/83. In autumn 2006, hunting was stopped in Iceland after it was considered that the annual killing of more than 3,000 geese every autumn was unsustainable. A ban on shooting was also introduced in Greenland in 2009. The species may be threatened by future outbreaks of disease as the species is susceptible to avian influenza.The increasing numbers of wind farms in many parts of the Greenland White-fronted Geese west European wintering range, including Ireland, pose a more recent threat to those moving between feeding and roosting areas. This threat is not just from direct collisions with turbine rotors but also from the associated installations i.e. powerlines to transfer produced energy away from a site. A report by BirdLife International highlights that there is a risk of both disturbance by and collisions with wind turbines for Greenland White-fronted Geese. The Greenland White-fronted Goose is not particularly manoeuvrable (as with other swans and geese) in flight, turning in wide arcs, due to their high wing loading. Poor flying conditions especially during low light levels (i.e. while flying between foraging and roosting grounds at pre-dawn and post-dusk periods), including strong winds or heavy rain that could additionally affect a bird’s manoeuvrability during flight could greatly increase the collision risk. Studies have indicated that negative effects on Greenland White-fronted Geese from wind turbines could occur up to 600m away. These effects include a reduction in the use of or absence from the area close to the turbines. Disturbance may be caused by the turbines themselves through visual, noise, and vibration impacts, or as a result of vehicle / vessel and personnel movements related to site maintenance. Detailed scientific studies are currently lacking to determine the level of risk of collisions and disturbance from turbines and their associated installations on Greenland White-fronted Geese.
Ecofact ornithologists are experts in providing both surveys and impact assessments in relation to greenland white-fronted geese. To discuss your wind farm bird survey requirements please contact us.