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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

In the UK, greylag geese breed from the beginning of April to May, laying usually 5 – 8 eggs in a large nest amongst floating vegetation or hidden in reeds. The incubation period is about 28 days and, unlike many species of waterfowl, the male goose or gander stays with the family group. Geese, in fact, have a more cohesive family unit than ducks and both parents guard the goslings against attacks from other birds or predatory mammals. The greylag family continues to remain together throughout the year and will migrate from their wintering grounds as a group within a larger flock. Only when the adult birds are ready to establish a new breeding territory will the gander drive off the previous year's young birds. Geese are primarily grazing birds, although they also take grain, root crops and leafy vegetation. Geese have relatively short bills, and prefer pasture or meadows that are grazed by cattle or sheep. A flock of geese will work their away across the fields, nibbling the more nutritious growing shoots of the grass or cereal crop. Grass, by itself, is not particularly high in nutrients, and geese have to eat almost continuously in order to gain any nourishment from it. To allow these bulky birds to be able to take-off in an emergency, they process this grass at a remarkable rate. The birds defecate almost continuously whilst grazing so that their gut is not weighed down with food and they can still make a quick getaway if danger threatens.
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Greylag geese are the wild ancestor of domesticated geese. They are noisy birds, gawking to each other as they fly in V-formation. Although it is now the most common grey goose breeding in the Netherlands, it was a very rare bird in 1970. Its name refers to the fact that it is the last bird to migrate (lags behind). Not only does the Netherlands serve as a winter home for most of its own nesting greylags, geese from Scandinavia or from the south also join in so that more than 250,000 greylag geese can be found in the winter.
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Description

If you see a wild grey goose in the UK outside the winter months, it will almost certainly be a greylag. The only other 'wild' goose seen throughout the year, and the only one apart from the greylag to breed in Britain, is the Canada goose, an introduced species. The greylag is a big bird with broad wings, and looks heavy in flight. From a distance, the birds appear a uniform grey-brown but a closer view reveals more subtle tones of brown and grey. The birds also have barring on back, breast and neck. The underside of the tail is white. Birds from different parts of their range show slight variations in colouration. Siberian birds have a slightly lighter heads and paler fringes to the dark plumage on their backs. They also have bills which are pinker in colour than the orange bills of the European birds. Both subspecies, however, have dull pink feet and legs. Greylags are the ancestors of most domesticated geese, although the Chinese swan goose is descended from the wild swan goose found in eastern Asia.
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Distribution

Geographic Range

During the summer the Graylag Geese, Anser anser, live in Scotland, Iceland; Scandinavia and Eastward to Russia, as well as Poland and Germany. The Iceland birds migrate in autumn to the British Isles, and usually arrive in October. The Netherlands, Spain, France, eastern Mediterranean, and North Africa are places in which the rest of the European population spends winter. (Soothill & Whiteherd, 1996)

Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )

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Range

Greylag geese are a migratory species and their breeding and wintering range extends across much of Europe and Asia. Greylags breed in Iceland, around the North Sea and Baltic coasts of Scandinavia, Finland and Northern Europe, and southwards through central Eastern Europe and western Russia as far south as the Black Sea. Winter populations range from the Iberian east coast, across southern Europe and Asia Minor, through the Himalayas and Thailand to the China Sea.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Greylag goose plumage is grayish-brown, with pale margins on feathers in the upper part. In the lower part it has a white belly, and grayish shading on the lower breast. Similar to all of this is the neck and the head. It has an orange, large bill. The feet and legs are flesh tissue colored, and in most adults there is spotting and blotching in most adults. Young birds do not have this characteristic, and have grayish legs. On average the length of a mature bird is 80 cm (31 inches). The mass of the birds tends to be in the range of 2500 to 4100 g. The average weight of males is 36 g (1.3 oz) and for females is 32 g (1 oz). Wingspan reaches 76 to 89 cm. (Soothill & Whiteherd, 1996; Dunning, 1993)

Range mass: 2160 to 4560 g.

Range length: 76 to 89 cm.

Average length: 80 cm.

Range wingspan: 147 to 180 cm.

Average wingspan: 163 cm.

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour This species is fully migratory although some populations in temperate regions are only sedentary (del Hoyo et al. 1992) or locally dispersive (Scott and Rose 1996), occasionally making irregular movements in very icy winters (del Hoyo et al. 1992). The species breeds from May or April in loose colonies (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kear 2005a), after which flocks gather to undertake moult migrations to favoured areas (with good feeding opportunities and access to safe roosting sites) (Kear 2005a) to undergo a flightless moulting period lasting c.1 month (Scott and Rose 1996). The species is highly gregarious (Madge and Burn 1988, Kear 2005a) outside of the breeding season (Madge and Burn 1988), with large concentrations forming during the post-breeding moult and before the autumn migration (e.g. flocks of up to 25,000 individuals) (Scott and Rose 1996). The species feeds diurnally, especially during the morning and evening, although non-breeding birds may also feed at night (Kear 2005a). It roosts at night and during the middle of the day on open water (Flint et al. 1984), and may fly to feeding areas more than 10 km away from roosting sites (Kear 2005a) (optimal distance 2-5 km away) (Vickery and Gill 1999). Habitat Breeding During the breeding season the species inhabits wetlands surrounded by fringing vegetation in open grassland (del Hoyo et al. 1992), sedge or heather moorland (Johnsgard 1978), arctic tundra, steppe or semi-desert from sea-level up to 2,300 m (Snow and Perrins 1998). It nests near streams, saltmarshes (Kear 2005a), river flood-plains, reedy marshes, grassy bogs, damp meadows, reed-lined freshwater lakes and estuaries (Johnsgard 1978) close to potential feeding sites such as meadows, grasslands, stubble fields and newly sown cereal fields (Kear 2005a). It requires isolated islands (Kear 2005a) in lakes (Johnsgard 1978) or on along the coast (Kear 2005a) out of reach of land predators for nesting (Kear 2005a). In the autumn (before migration) the species also frequents agricultural land (e.g. sugar-beet, maize and cereal fields) (Kear 2005a). Non-breeding In the winter the species inhabits lowland farmland in open country (Madge and Burn 1988, del Hoyo et al. 1992), swamps (del Hoyo et al. 1992), lakes (Madge and Burn 1988, del Hoyo et al. 1992), reservoirs (Madge and Burn 1988), coastal lagoons (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and estuaries (Madge and Burn 1988). Diet The species is herbivorous, its diet consisting of grass (del Hoyo et al. 1992), the roots, shoots, leaves, stems, seedheads and fruits of other herbaceous marsh vegetation (Johnsgard 1978, del Hoyo et al. 1992), aquatic plants (Johnsgard 1978), and agricultural grain and potatoes (especially in the winter) (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Breeding site The nest is a shallow construction of plant matter (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Snow and Perrins 1998) placed among reedbeds, on the ground (del Hoyo et al. 1992), in or at the base of trees, under bushes or in sheltered hollows on isolated wooded islands on lakes or along coasts (Johnsgard 1978, Kear 2005a), as well as on rafts of vegetation in rivers (Snow and Perrins 1998). Although the species is only semi-colonial, nests may be concentrated within a small area (e.g. placed 11 m apart on small islands) (Johnsgard 1978). Management information On the Vejlerne nature reserve, Denmark, it was found that reedbeds left unharvested for 5-13 years supported the highest nesting densities of this species (Nyeland Kristiansen 1998). Low nesting densities were found in reedbeds in the first four years after reed cutting, and no nests were found in reedbeds cut in the year of study (shoot density may have been too low to provide adequate cover) or in reedbeds left uncut for sixteen years (reed stems may have been too dense) (Nyeland Kristiansen 1998).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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During the breeding season Greylag geese live in lowland marshes and fens that have a lot of vegetation, as well as offshore islands. Outside of the breeding season they spend time in fresh-and salt-water marshes, estuaries, stubble fields, pasture lands, and potato fields. (Soothill & Whiteherd, 1996)

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: tundra

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

Other Habitat Features: agricultural ; riparian ; estuarine

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Depth range based on 18 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 6 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): 9.671 - 11.768
  Nitrate (umol/L): 1.402 - 7.121
  Salinity (PPS): 34.889 - 35.334
  Oxygen (ml/l): 6.069 - 6.368
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.321 - 0.521
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.987 - 2.780

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): 9.671 - 11.768

Nitrate (umol/L): 1.402 - 7.121

Salinity (PPS): 34.889 - 35.334

Oxygen (ml/l): 6.069 - 6.368

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.321 - 0.521

Silicate (umol/l): 0.987 - 2.780
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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This species can be found in an extremely varied range of habitats, more than many other geese, in fact. Greylags frequent lakes and meres, brackish coastal waters, arable farmland and pasture, freshwater and saltwater marsh, and cereal fields including winter-grown fields.
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Food include grasses, rhizomes of marsh plants, and roots, and some small aquatic animals. They also eat spilled grain in stubbles, and different kinds of root crops, as well as turnips, carrots, and potatoes. (Soothill & Whiteherd, 1996)

Animal Foods: amphibians; fish; insects; mollusks; aquatic crustaceans

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; algae

Primary Diet: herbivore (Granivore )

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Associations

Predation

For Greylag geese, threats from the air include golden eagles, ravens, and hawks, and on the ground, prowling dogs, foxes, and humans. (Lorenz 1991)

Known Predators:

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Known predators

Anser anser is prey of:
Accipitridae
Aquila chrysaetos
Corvus corax
Alopex lagopus
Vulpes vulpes
Canis lupus familiaris

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Most Greylag geese live until they are twenty years old. (Lorenz, 1991)

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
243.33 (high) months.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
243.33 months.

Typical lifespan

Status: captivity:
20 (low) years.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
21 (high) years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 31 years (captivity) Observations: The domestic goose descended from the greylac. In captivity it may live over 30 years. In the wild it probably lives over 20 years. Anecdotal evidence suggests it may live up to 35 years (Nigrelli 1954).
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Reproduction

Mating System: monogamous

In Iceland, the breeding season starts in early May, and in Scotland it begins in late April. In middle Europe the breeding season starts a bit earlier. The nests are built among reeds and bushes. They are also build in high and elevated places, as well as marshy regions, and small isles to keep eggs and goslings safe from predators.

The number of eggs varies from three to twelve, but is usually only four to six. The eggs are creamy white, and about 85 x 58mm (3.3 to 2.3 inches) in size. The eggs are incubated only by the female, and take 27 to 28 days to hatch. After hatching, the goslings usually wait until drying out to leave the nest. With the supervision of their parents the young birds feed themselves, and in about eight weeks they are fully independent.

Geese take from 2 to 3 years to reach sexual maturity but usually mature at 3 years. (Soothill & Whiteherd, 1996; del Hoyo et al., 1992)

Breeding season: Spring

Range eggs per season: 3 to 12.

Average eggs per season: 6.

Range time to hatching: 27 to 28 days.

Range fledging age: 50 to 60 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 to 3 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 to 3 years.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)

Parental Investment: precocial ; male parental care ; female parental care

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Anser anser

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 5 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

AACCGATGACTATTTTCCACTAACCATAAGGATATTGGCACCCTGTACCTCATCTTCGGGGCATGAGCAGGAATAGTCGGCACCGCACTC---AGCCTATTAATCCGCGCAGAACTAGGACAACCAGGAACTCTCCTAGGCGAC---GACCAAATTTACAATGTAATCGTTACCGCTCACGCCTTTGTAATAAGCTTCTTTATAGTCATACCCATCATGATCGGAGGATTCGGCAACTGATTAGTCCCCCTCATA---ATCGGTGCCCCCGACATAGCATTCCCGCGAATAAACAACATAAGCTTTTGACTCCTCCCCCCATCATTCCTCCTCCTACTAGCCTCATCCACTGTAGAAGCTGGCGCCGGCACAGGCTGAACTGTCTACCCTCCCCTAGCAGGTGACCTTGCCCACGCCGGAGCTTCAGTAGACCTG---GCTATCTTCTCACTCCACTTAGCCGGTATCTCCTCCATCCTTGGGGCCATCAACTTTATCACCACAGCCATCAACATAAAACCCCCCGCACTCTCACAATACCAAACCCCACTATTTGTCTGATCCGTACTAATTACCGCCATCCTACTCCTTCTATCACTCCCCGTACTCGCCGCC---GGTATTACAATATTACTAACTGATCGAAACCTAAACACCACATTCTTCGACCCCGCTGGAGGAGGAGACCCAATCCTGTACCAACACCTATTCTGATTCTTCGGACACCCAGAAGTCTATATTCTGATCCTACCGGGGTTCGGAATCATCTCACACGTAGTCACGTACTACTCAGGCAAAAAG---GAGCCCTTCGGCTACATGGGAATAGTCTGAGCCATACTATCCATCGGCTTCCTAGGATTCATCGTCTGAGCTCACCACATGTTTACAGTAGGAATAGACGTTGATACCCGAGCCTACTTTACATCAGCCACTATAATCATTGCCATCCCTACCGGAATCAAAGTATTTAGCTGACTA---GCCACCCTGCACGGAGGA---ACAATCAAATGAGACCCCCCAATACTATGAGCTCTAGGATTTATCTTCCTATTTACCATCGGAGGATTAACAGGAATCGTTCTTGCAAACTCTTCCCTAGACATCGCCCTGCACGACACGTACTACGTAGTTGCCCACTTCCACTACGTC---CTATCCATAGGCGCCGTCTTTGCCATTCTAGCAGGATTTACTCACTGATTCCCACTACTCACTGGGTTTACCCTACACCAAACATGAGCAAAAGCCCACTTCGGGGTAATATTTACAGGAGTAAACCTAACGTTCTTCCCCCAGCACTTCCTAGGCCTAGCAGGAATACCCCGA---CGATACTCGGACTATCCCGACGCCTACACA---CTATGAAACACCATTTCCTCCATCGGCTCCCTAATCTCAATAGTAGCCGTAATCATACTAATATTCATCATCTGAGAAGCCTTTCCGGCCAAACGAAAAGTC---CTACAACCAGAACTAACTACCACAAAC
-- end --

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Anser anser

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 6
Specimens with Barcodes: 12
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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Greylag Geese once were very common in Western Europe, but due to the draining of marshes there has been a severe drop in numbers. Currently, this species has increased in numbers up to a point of reaching flocks of tens of thousands. (Schneck 1999)

US Migratory Bird Act: no special status

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Status in Egypt

Accidental visitor.

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Status

Common. Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) in the UK.
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Population

Population
The global population is estimated to number c.1,000,000-1,100,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2006), while national population sizes have been estimated at
Population Trend
Increasing
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Threats

Major Threats
This species is threatened by considerable hunting pressures across much of its range (Madge and Burn 1988, del Hoyo et al. 1992) and is susceptible to poisoning from lead shot ingestion (Mateo et al. 1998). It is also persecuted by farmers as it can cause considerable crop damage (Madge and Burn 1988, del Hoyo et al. 1992). The destruction and degradation of wetland habitats due to drainage (Madge and Burn 1988, del Hoyo et al. 1992, Grishanov 2006), conversion to agriculture (Madge and Burn 1988, del Hoyo et al. 1992), petroleum pollution, peat-extraction, changing wetland management practices (e.g. decreased grazing and mowing in meadows leading to scrub over-growth) and the burning and mowing of reeds is also a threat, especially in breeding areas (Grishanov 2006). The species is susceptible to avian influenza so may be threatened by future outbreaks of the virus (Melville and Shortridge 2006).
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Geese generally have been a human quarry species for centuries, and greylags are still shot in large numbers throughout their range. Although many birds are killed for sport, or to provide food, they are also shot due to the damage they can cause to crops by grazing in huge flocks. Furthermore, the birds' populations suffered badly from the drainage of their wetland habitats during the middle of the 20th century and from the effects of industrial and agricultural pollution.
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Management

Conservation

In recent years, greylag goose populations have been on the increase across Europe. The UK has a resident population thought to number a few hundred pairs, but the winter population swells to around 100,000 birds as flocks migrate from Iceland and northern Europe. Greylag geese enjoy protection in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) but can be shot during the wildfowling season between 1 September and 31 January. In December 2002, the Wetlands International Specialist Goose Group meeting in Spain expressed uncertainties about the status of the European greylag populations. Using current counting methods, it appears greylag numbers are slowly declining although they are still 'stable'. Accurate figures for game bags are hard to obtain in many cases, but it has been suggested there may be problems with overshooting in some countries.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Farming has been affected due to overpopulation. Greylag geese flocks have been known to harm potato and carrot fields in different parts of Europe. (Schneck, 1999)

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Thousands of years ago Greylag geese were domesticated and used for many purposes. One of the purposes of raising geese is because of the meat, which is very rich in flavor . The down (soft feathers) of the birds has also been very useful for many commodities such as stuffing in pillows, as a lightweight, mattresses, outdoor clothing sleeping bags, and insulating material. (Austic, 2001)

Positive Impacts: food

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Wikipedia

Greylag goose

"Greylag" redirects here. For the Thoroughbred race horse, see Grey Lag. For the Admirable-class minesweeper, see USS Graylag (AM-364).
Greylag geese, Texel, Netherlands (2009)

The greylag goose (also spelled graylag in the United States), Anser anser, is a bird with a wide range in the Old World. It is the type species of the genus Anser.

It was in pre-Linnean times known as the wild goose ("Anser ferus"). This species is the ancestor of domesticated geese in Europe and North America. Flocks of feral birds derived from domesticated birds are widespread.

The greylag goose is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.

Within science, the greylag goose is most notable as being the bird with which the ethologist Konrad Lorenz first did his major studying into the behavioural phenomenon of imprinting.

Description[edit]

The greylag is the largest and bulkiest of the grey geese of the genus Anser. It has a rotund, bulky body, a thick and long neck, and a large head and bill. It has pink legs and feet, and an orange or pink bill.[2] It is 74 to 91 cm (29 to 36 in) long with a wing length of 41.2 to 48 cm (16.2 to 18.9 in). It has a tail 6.2 to 6.9 cm (2.4 to 2.7 in), a bill of 6.4 to 6.9 cm (2.5 to 2.7 in) long, and a tarsus of 7.1 to 9.3 cm (2.8 to 3.7 in). It weighs 2.16 to 4.56 kg (4.8 to 10.1 lb), with a mean weight of around 3.3 kg (7.3 lb). The wingspan is 147 to 180 cm (58 to 71 in).[3][4][5] Males are generally larger than females, with the sexual dimorphism more pronounced in the eastern subspecies rubirostris, which is larger than the nominate subspecies on average.[2]

The plumage of the greylag goose is greyish-brown, with a darker head and paler belly with variable black spots. Its plumage is patterned by the pale fringes of its feathers. It has a white line bordering its upper flanks. Its coverts are lightly coloured, contrasting with its darker flight feathers. Juveniles differ mostly in their lack of a black-speckled belly.[2][6]

It has a loud cackling call, HOOOOOONK!, like the domestic goose.[2]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

This species is found throughout the Old World, apparently breeding where suitable localities are to be found in many European countries, although it no longer breeds in southwestern Europe. Eastwards, it extends across Asia to China. In North America, there are both feral domestic geese, which are similar to greylags, and occasional vagrants.[6]

In Great Britain, their numbers had declined as a breeding bird, retreating north to breed wild only in the Outer Hebrides and the northern mainland of Scotland. However, during the 20th century, feral populations have been established elsewhere, and they have now re-colonised much of England. These populations are increasingly coming into contact.[7] The breeding habitat is a variety of wetlands including marshes, lakes, and damp heather moors.

In Norway, the number of greylag geese is estimated to have increased three- to fivefold during the last 15–20 years. As a consequence, farmers' problems caused by goose grazing on farmland has increased considerably. This problem is also evident for the pink-footed goose.

Behaviour[edit]

The geese are generally migratory, moving south or west in winter. Scottish breeders, some other populations in northwestern Europe, and feral flocks are largely resident. This species is one of the last to migrate, and the "lag" portion of its name is said to derive from this lagging behind other geese.[8]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

  • Maria (goose), a greylag goose from Los Angeles, California noted for his interest in humans

References[edit]

Works cited[edit]

  • Dunning, John B., Jr., ed. (1992). CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5. 
  • Johnsgard, Paul A. (2010) [1978]. Ducks, Geese, and Swans of the World (revised online ed.). Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. 
  • Lorenz, Konrad Z.; Martys, Michael; Tipler, Angelika (1991). Here Am I—Where Are You? The Behavior of the Greylag Goose. translated by Robert D. Martin. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0-15-140056-3. 
  • Madge, Steve; Burn, Hilary (1988). Waterfowl: an Identification Guide to the Ducks, Geese, and Swans of the World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-46727-6. 
  • Ogilvie, M. A.; Young, S. (2004). Wildfowl of the World. New Holland Publishers. ISBN 978-1-84330-328-2. 
  • Wójcik, Ewa; Smalec, Elżbieta (2007). "Description of the Anser anser Goose Karyotype" (PDF). Folia Biol. (Krakow) 55 (1–2): 35–40. 
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