The Pink-feet return!

It’s my favourite time of year! The Pink-footed Geese have arrived back from Iceland and Eastern Greenland. Every year in mid-September, the ‘Pinkies’ make their annual journey from their breeding grounds to spend the winter in the UK.

Pink-footed Geese arriving en-masse!

Here at Loch Leven NNR, we can see up to 20,000 Pink-footed Geese at peak. They use the loch as an important roost and stop-over site. The fields around Loch Leven NNR provide ample food for the hungry geese as they feed up and make their way south. Most of the Pink-footed Goose population winter in Norfolk, and the big peaks we see at this time of year are birds making their way further south. However, we do have a resident population of wintering pink-footed geese that stay at Loch Leven all winter round.

Pinkies on St Serfs

‘Pinkfeet’ come to the UK to escape the harsh arctic winters of Iceland and Greenland. There are around 500,000 Pink-footed Geese in the world, and they all winter in the UK. There is a smaller number of birds that breed in Svalbard (80,000) and they winter in Northern Europe (Netherlands, Denmark etc.).

Breeding (green) and wintering (blue) grounds of pink-footed geese. Alexander Kürthy CC-BY-SA-4.0

Their migration journey from Iceland to Scotland is no easy feat. It is a non-stop flight of 12-15 hours over the sea in very changeable conditions. Especially if you are a juvenile on their first migration! Birds tend to move when the winds are north-westerly, a tail wind will make their 800 mile flight much easier.

The world population of Pink-footed Geese has increased dramatically! There were 280,000 in 2003 and this has almost doubled in 20 years. We have data from here at Loch Leven going back to 1967 and number of wintering Pink-footed Geese has increased from an average peak of 7000 to 15000 at current. Interestingly, it seems that the Loch had its highest average mean between 2004-2008. Even with the increase in population, it looks like the wintering numbers on the loch have stayed fairly stable in the last 15-20 years with no real increase or decrease. Loch Leven on average supports around 15-20,000 wintering Pink Footed Geese at peak and interestingly the record count was of 28,500 in March 2004.

Pink-footed Geese at Loch Leven NNR

Every year I longingly await the ‘wink-wink’ calls and first v-shaped skeins over Loch Leven NNR. It is one of the UKs best wildlife spectacles and a true harbinger of Autumn. I recommend a dawn watch from Kirkgate to view the Pinkies leaving en-masse, this will be best when we have our peak counts in mid-late October. We are doing a ‘Goose Sunrise’ on the 29th October at Kirkgate Cemetery at 0645 so please come along to that!

Enjoy the geese, Autumn is here for real now!

About SimonR

I am a keen naturalist/wildlife conservationist from North-East Scotland. I work at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve as a Reserve Officer and have a deep interest in conservation and wildlife management in Scotland. Keen Birder, naturalist and practical habitat management enthusiast.
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