Greylag Goose

Anser anser



This is a big bird, but it's usually slightly smaller than the Canada Goose. Feather ridges form several dark lines on the side of the neck, and the head is grey-brown, large and thick. The breast and belly are pale grey and smudged with darker marks, while the back is darker with white barring. There are white feathers beneath the tail, and the underwing is a dull white. The Greylag has flesh-pink legs and a large, pink and orange bill which pales at the end. The bill is darker on the juveniles and the pale tip emerges with age. The barring is less noticeable on the backs of young birds.


Freshwater lakes and small islands are popular spots for the Greylag to breed. In the winter, flocks roost on estuaries, marshes and reservoirs, and feral populations sometimes live in urban parks and waterholes.


The Greylag is the only 'grey' goose found to breed in Britain. It flies in 'V's which are often not very structured if travelling short distances. It looks strong in the air and its broad wingspan enables it to fly fast. Compared to other geese, it runs further along the ground before taking off.


The Greylag visits local farms and meadows to feed. Its diet includes roots, tubers, leaves, stems, flowers and seeds of plants such as grass, sedges and rushes. This bird will feed while on land, but will also graze on floating vegetations such as pondweed and duckweed.


Breeding occurs near fresh water, and some geese nest near each other in colonies. Nests can often be found under trees or within bushes. Females usually lays 5-7 eggs in March; she incubates them for about 28 days while the male guards nearby territory. Once the eggs hatch, young and adults flock together and associate with other families for a few weeks. Family units stay together for the first year and the young fly after 50 or 60 days.


In September and October, Icelandic Greylags migrate to Britain, and return to their breeding ground by April or May. The spread of the feral population means the native breeding population cannot be distinguished, but there are approximately 46 000 total pairs in summer and 230 000 in winter in the UK. Ireland has approximately 1 000 pairs, plus the birds that migrate from Iceland in winter. The species is widespread in lowland England, though it is distributed thinly; the Greylag is more common in the north of England and southern Scotland. It is believed that majority of Greylags in Scotland are authentically wild, while populations elsewhere are infiltrated by feral birds.

Observation Tips

It's worth visiting flooded gravel pits in lowland Britain; Greylag colonies have established themselves in areas such as these. The birds can be found in greatest numbers in southern Scotland.


Their call has been said to sound like a sheep at a distance; it is loud and honking, like common farmyard geese.