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Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis
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This species has a moderately small population which appears to have declined rapidly over a short time period. The reasons for this decline are largely unknown. Small populations of other Arctic breeding geese have shown dramatic population fluctuations and this may prove to be the case for this species. However, the species is precautionarily listed as Endangered.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

53-56 cm. Unmistakable red, black and white goose. Chestnut-red foreneck, breast and sides of head, bordered white. White flank-stripe and black belly. White rear belly and black tail. Juvenile generally duller than adult. Short neck and dark belly stand out in flight. Similar spp. Can be surprisingly difficult to detect amongst large flocks of other geese. Voice Repeated, jerky kik-yoik, kik-yik in flight.

Distribution and population
Branta ruficollis breeds on the Taimyr (70% of the population), Gydan and Yamal peninsulas, Russia (Hunter and Black 1996). In winter, prior to the 1950s, much of the population occurred along the western coast of the Caspian Sea, mainly in Azerbaijan, and in Iran and Iraq. The wintering area then rapidly shifted to the western Black Sea coast, and 80-90% of birds now congregate in January/ February at 5-10 roost sites on the Black Sea coast, particularly at Shabla Lakes and Durankulak Lake, Bulgaria, Razelm-Sinoe lagoons, Romania, and in the coastal area between the rivers Danube and Dniester in Ukraine (Cranswick et al. 2010; Rusev et al. 2008; A. Mikityuk in litt. 1999). Small numbers also winter in Azerbaijan. The precise distribution in winter varies according to the severity of the weather from the Crimean peninsula to the Dobrudzha region of Bulgaria. In cold weather, small numbers are occasionally on the Aegean shore of Greece and Turkey (Cranswick et al. 2010); during prolonged mild periods, significant numbers may remain in Kalmykya, Stavropol and Rostov districts in Russia (S. Rozenfeld in litt. 2012). Migration is believed to follow a relatively narrow route south down the Ob to Kazakhstan (though a small number of ringing recoveries point to some birds passing to the west of the Urals) and then east to the Black Sea. There are four known main staging areas: the Lower Ob, Middle Ob and Kumo-Manych depression in Russia, and the Northern and Kostanay regions of Kazakhstan. They are also regularly recorded in small numbers on passage in Hungary (e.g. Pigniczki 2008). There may be other, currently unknown, staging sites and knowledge of the migration route, particularly in Siberia, should therefore be considered incomplete. It is also possible that some wintering grounds remain undetected (perhaps in eastern Ukraine and southwest Russia), and use of these areas during mild weather may account for the variation in winter survey totals in recent years. Maximum population counts from wintering or staging areas were 60,000 between 1967-1970, 25,907 between 1976-1990, 75,879 between 1991-1995, 88,000 in 1996 (Aarvak et al. 1996), 60,444 between 1998-2001 (with a maximum of 88,425 in winter 2000) (D. Hulea in litt. 2003) and 56,860 in 2010 (Rozenfeld 2011a). It is unclear whether these represent genuine population fluctuations or are due to incomplete surveying of the species following suspected alteration its winter distribution (as has been seen in the late 1960s following deterioration of wintering conditions in Azerbaijan) with larger numbers of birds now short-stopping and over-wintering in Ukraine (Cranswick et al. 2010; Rusev et al. 2008) and in areas in Romania (N. Petkov in litt.), where monitoring is more difficult and less comprehensive. Coordinated censuses in January 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 resulted in totals of 33,600, 52,800, 32,100 and c.34,000 respectively, with a mean population estimate of 37,300 (S. Dereliev in litt. to Wetlands International 2005). Total counts recorded 40,800 individuals in spring 2008 and 44,300 in 2009 (Cranswick et al. 2010).

Population justification
Coordinated censuses in January 2003, 2004 and 2005 resulted in total population estimates of 33,600, 52,800 and 32,100 individuals respectively. The geometric mean of these totals 38,500. Recalculating this including the 2006 count of c.34,000 gives a revised geometric mean of 37,000 individuals, which is retained here as a minimum estimate. However, total counts of 40,800 in spring 2008 (primarily as a result of a large count in Kalmykia), 44,300 the following winter (Cranswick et al. 2010) and a maximum population count of 56,860 in autumn 2010 (Rozenfeld 2011a) lend further weight to the suggestion that counts in the mid 2000s might be partially incomplete because birds wintered away from the traditionally surveyed sites.

Trend justification

Variation in survey intensity and coverage historically makes determination of trends difficult. Following a count of 60,000 in the mid 1950s, totals rarely exceeded 20,000 until intensive winter surveys in the 1990s recorded over 70,000. Two counts of just under 90,000 in the late 1990s were considered accurate (Aarvak et al. 1996, D. Hulea in litt. 2003) and an increase since the 1970s. Coordinated winter counts were then initiated in Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine since 1995, with at least one count in each winter month. Only around 30,000 were recorded in the early 200os. It has been suggested that some birds may have been overlooked, wintering further east than expected (in eastern Ukraine or southwest Russia) where survey coverage was much less comprehensive or absent, though no new wintering sites have been found. Numbers recorded during winter surveys recovered slightly, with an average of 37,300 during the mid 2000s (S. Dereliev in litt. to Wetlands International 2005), but representing a decline of more than 50% since the late 1990s. Counts during migration periods since 2008 have recorded larger numbers, eg 40,800 in spring 2008 in Kalmykia, and 56,860 in autumn 2010 in Northern Kazakhstan (Rozenfeld 2011a). The use of such areas during migration potentially make survey efforts more effective, concentrating birds that may be widely dispersed during winter, though rapid turnover at sites during migration also presents potential problems of missing or double-counting birds. Whilst migration counts suggest a recent increase, further corroboration is required to confirm an accurate current estimate.

Behaviour This species is highly migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Following the post-breeding moult it migrates southwards overland in mid- to late-September (del Hoyo et al. 1992; Kear 2005), arriving on its wintering grounds in October-November. Here it is highly gregarious and occurs in flocks, regularly in association with the White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons (Madge and Burn 1988) Lesser White-fronted Goose A. erythropus and Greylag Goose A. anser. The return journey is made between March and May (del Hoyo et al. 1992), often together with A. albifrons (Kear 2005). It flies in dense flocks rather than in the defined V-formation typical of other goose species (Kear 2005), and arrives on its breeding grounds in small flocks of 3-15 individuals (Johnsgard 1978). It begins to breed in June in loose colonies, usually of around five to fifteen pairs (del Hoyo et al. 1992; Madge and Burn 1988, S. Rozenfeld in litt. 2012), although up to 37 have been observed (Kear 2005). Habitat Breeding It breeds in tundra or scrubby 'wooded' tundra (del Hoyo et al. 1992; Madge and Burn 1988), in close proximity to rivers and gulleys (Madge and Burn 1988). It favours high and dry areas on steep river banks and precipices, low hills, rock outcrops and rocky islands (Kear 2005). Less commonly it inhabits low islands in lowland areas (Kear 2005). Vegetative cover in its preferred habitats is usually thin and includes dwarf birch Betula, willow salix, and dead grass (Kear 2005). Non-breeding During the non-breeding season it inhabits open steppe and open rolling lowland hills, feeding among steppe, coastal lines, pasture, stubble and crop fields (Madge and Burn 1988). Throughout the day it flies to coastal and freshwater lakes to drink (Kear 2005). Occasionally it also roosts at these lakes, using the middle of the water or remote shallow areas and muddy and sandy beaches with low aquatic vegetation (Kear 2005). It will also roost on frozen lakes or on the sea (Kear 2005). The distribution of geese from year to year depends a lot on differences in lake water levels. Diet Breeding On its breeding grounds it feeds primarily on Fabaceae and to a lesser extent grass leaves and the shoots of cotton-grasses Eriophorum angustifolium and E. scheuchzeri (Rosenfeld and Volkov 2001), as well as some Carex and Equisetum spp. (Kear 2005). Non-breeding Wintering geese feed on winter wheat, barley, maize, pasture and steppe grasses and, in Greece, natural grassland (Kear 2005). In Kazakhstan on passage they feed mainly on spilled grain on the fields after harvesting the wheat crops in autumn. They also feed on arid-adapted herbs such as Salicornia (Johnsgard 1978). At migration staging areas the diet is thought to consist largely of grass shoots, supplemented with tubers and rhizomes (Kear 2005), whilst at the Kumo-Manych stopover site, the diet consists of the salt marsh’s galophyte complex of Puccinellia distans and Aeroplus littoralis (Rozenfeld 2011b). Breeding site The species nests in hollows and fissures in the ground, usually 50-80mm deep and 200mm in diameter (Kear 2005). Nests are lined with dark-grey down and grass (Kear 2005). They are often constructed near to the eyries of birds of prey (Kear 2005), since breeding success may depend on nesting Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, Snowy Owl Bubo scandiaca and Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus providing protection from predators (Quinn et al. 1996, Prop and Quinn 2003, Quinn et al. 2003, S. Rozenfeld in litt. 2012). Successful breeding seasons are also associated with good lemming years, and it has been suggested that this may be because predators are sated by the lemming population and so predation of geese is much lower.

Deliberate hunting of birds occurs in Russia and Kazakhstan (Rozenfeld 2009, 2011b). Following land privatization, and especially the residential and tourist development boom in winter roosting and feeding areas, the quality of roosting areas has decreased. In addition, the low profitability of agriculture has reduced the area under winter wheat cultivation which, together with conversion to other crops, has decreased the availability of food. Some key feeding sites have been lost in Bulgaria (S. Dereliev in litt. 1999). Hunting pressure on waterfowl as a whole is substantial in Bulgaria and Romania, including illegal shooting at Red-breasted Goose (Simeonov in litt. 2007). There are no effective hunting-free areas around roost sites in Bulgaria (hunting is only prohibited for 100m around the lake edge, and this rule is regularly ignored). However, conservation activities in the area of Shabla and Durankulak lakes have reduced deliberate shooting of the species in 2010-2012 (N. Petkov in litt. 2012). Disturbance in the lakes used for roosts is also caused by poachers and fishermen (Dereliev 1997, D. Hulea in litt. 2006, Dereliev and Georgiev, 2002). Disturbance/chasing of feeding birds by hunters (because they associate with White-fronted Geese Anser erythropus, a legal quarry species) is a significant limitation on foraging behaviour and prenuptial accumulation of fat reserves, which has a negative effect on survival during spring migration and breeding (N. Petkov in litt. 2007). Hunting by tourists in Ukraine poses an increasing threat (WWT TWSG News 10 1997) and birds are shot at staging grounds in Russia. Climate change and associated habitat shifts are expected to impact negatively on this species and others dependent on tundra habitat for breeding. Modelling indicates that 67% of the habitat for this species could be lost by 2070 ( Zöckler and Lysenko 2000). The increase in oil and gas operations in the region has seen a significant expansion into previously remote areas and has resulted in disturbance of breeding birds as well as direct habitat loss to a small degree. Further expansion of operations in the region is anticipated (Cranswick et al. 2010). Other threats include industrial developments at breeding sites in Gydan and Yamal, the use of rodenticides in the wintering grounds, as well as displacement by windfarms in the wintering areas. A major recent threat is the expansion in windfarms in the wintering areas since 2008. Many thousands of wind turbines have been proposed in Dobrudhza area both in Bulgaria and Romania, including large complexes adjacent to IBAs and SPAs. Data analysis from wintering grounds in Bulgaria suggest that there is already impact of the constructed windfarms leading to displacement and shifting of the foraging areas (Petkov et al., 2012).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix I and II. It is legally protected in key states (Hunter et al. 1999). It is listed in the (national and regional) Red Book of Russia and Red Books of Kazakhstan and Bulgaria. Parts of its breeding range and principal wintering roost sites are protected (some qualifying as Ramsar sites), including the implementation of hunting regulations and hunting-free areas in Russia and Kazakhstan, although hunting occurs in many feeding areas. A management plan is being implemented for roosting lakes in Bulgaria (S. Dereliev in litt. 1999). Wintering sites in Bulgaria and Romania are monitored and research and public awareness projects are ongoing (S. Dereliev in litt. 1999; D. Hulea in litt. 1999; Hunter et al. 1999). An International action plan was published in 2010 (Cranswick et al. 2010). An International Species Working Group is active and a coordinator is in place. In 2010 an EU Life project began in Bulgaria, which aims to address many of the key threats operating on the wintering grounds. A study of geese distribution, movements and feeding preferences will enable a sensitivity map is to be developed and goose-sensitive guidance provided to authorities to help guide development proposals. A payment for the species has been included in the National agri-environmental programme of Romania. In Bulgaria, an agri-environmental payment for farmers for seeding winter wheat in key wintering areas for geese was introduced in 2012. Spring-hunting of wildfowl was prohibited in southwest Russia in spring 2012. Conservation Actions Proposed
Study migration patterns and determine species's non-breeding range using satellite telemetry. Expand monitoring and research programmes, especially in Ukraine and Romania to determine whether more birds are overwintering there. Implement a Strategy for Hunting and Waterbird Resource Management (Rozenfeld 2011b). Regulate hunting in key sites (particularly spring hunting in Russia and Kazakhstan). Monitor and reduce disturbance and illegal hunting. Monitor breeding population in Russia to determine population trends. Identify and protect key staging areas. Prevent loss of roosting lakes to urbanization. Monitor changes in agriculture and propose measures (in EU agri-environmental measures ) to ensure suitable foraging habitat is available. Promote beneficial agricultural policies and spatial crop rotation planning around roosting areas. Continue public awareness initiatives. Lobby for full designation of qualifying wetlands and feeding areas as Natura 2000 sites, ensure hunting is not allowed within them and ensure they are properly managed.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Aarvak, T.; Oien, I. J.; Nagy, S. 1996. The Lesser White-fronted Goose monitoring programme: annual report 1996.

Cranswick, PA, L Raducescu, GM Hilton & N Petkov. 2010. International Single Species Action Plan for the conservation of the Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis, 2011–2020. . Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust/BirdLife International.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A.; Sargatal, J. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Dereliev, S. 1997. Research on wintering populations of wild geese in the region of Shabla and Durankulak lakes during the period 1996-1997.

Dereliev, S. 2000. Dynamics of the numbers and distribution of the Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis) in its main wintering grounds around the Shabla and Durankulak Lakes. In: Dereliev, S.; N. Petkov (ed.), 2004-2007 Studies of the Red-breasted Goose in NE Bulgaria, BSPB, Sofia.

Hunter, J. M.; Black, J. M. 1996. International action plan for the Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis). In: Heredia, B.; Rose, L.; Painter, M. (ed.), Globally threatened birds in Europe: action plans, pp. 79-98. Council of Europe, and BirdLife International, Strasbourg.

Hunter, J. M.; Black, J. M.; Rusev, I.; Michev, T.; Munteanu, D. 1999. Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis. In: Madsen, J.; Cracknell, G.; Fox, T. (ed.), Goose populations of the Western Palearctic: a review of status and distribution, pp. 328-340. Wetlands International/National Environmental Research Institute, Ronde, Denmark.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1978. Ducks, geese and swans of the World. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London.

Kear, J. 2005. Ducks, geese and swans volume 1: general chapters; species accounts (Anhima to Salvadorina). Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

Madge, S.; Burn, H. 1988. Wildfowl. Christopher Helm, London.

Petkov, N., G. Popgeorgiev & S. Gigov. 2012. Evidence of landscape scale impact of windfarm development in Coastal Dobrudga on the distribution of foraging flocks of Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis) and the “Ponto-Anatolian” flyway population of Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons). Abstract and poster presented at !4th WI/IUCN GSG Meeting, Stakjiar, Norway..

Pigniczki, C. 2008. Observation of an unusually large flock of Red-breasted Geese (Branta ruficollis) on the sodic pens of Kiskunság. Aquila 114-115: 173.

Prop, J., Quinn J. L. 2003. Colony choice in a patchy arctic environment: density-dependent reproductive sucess in red-breasted geese Branta ruficollis. Oikos 102: 571-580.

Quinn, J. L.; Prop, J.; Kokorev, Y. 1996. The ecology of Red-breasted Geese in summer: report on a preliminary expedition to the Taimyr Peninsula in 1995.

Rozenfeld S. 2009. Number and distribution of migrant RBG and LWFG in Russia and Kazakhstan, 2006-2009. Strategy of the sustainable use of waterfowl: perspectives and preliminary experience. Abstracts of Goose Specialist Group, 12th meeting, Holviken, Sweden. 9-13 Oct 2009: 35.

Rozenfeld S. 2011. The number of Red-Breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis) and Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus) on the migration routes in 2010. Goose Bulletin. Issue 12. Goose Specialist Group of Wetlands International and IUCN.

Rozenfeld S. B., Volkov S. V. 2001. Food ecology of the Red-brested Goose in Western Taimyr. Bulletin of Moscow Society of Naturalists Biological series. Volume 106, Part 3.

Rozenfeld, S. 2011. Regulation of Spring and Autumn Hunting on Waterbirds in the Kumo-Manych Depression, Russian Federation, March 2010-February 2011. AEWA Lesser White-fronted Goose International Working Group Report Series No. 2. Bonn, Germany.

Rusev, I. T.; Andriuschenko, Y. A.; Belinskiy, A. V.; Grinchenko, A. B.; Zhmud, M. E.; Kinda, V. V.; Korziukov, A. I.; Moskalenko, Y. A.; Petrovich, Z. I.; Popenko, V. M.; Yaremchenko, O. A. 2008. Current status of Red-breasted Goose in Azov-Black Sea region of Ukraine. Casarca 11(1): 49-60.

Zöckler, C.; Lysenko, I. 2000. Water birds on the edge. First circumpolar assessment of climate change impact on Arctic breeding water birds. WCMC, Cambridge, UK.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

International Action Plan

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Capper, D., Derhé, M., Harding, M., Peet, N., Pilgrim, J., Pople, R.

Bukreev, S., Dereliev, S., Hulea, D., Mikityuk, A., Petkov, N., Zöckler, C., Rozenfeld, S., Simeonov, Cranswick, P.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Branta ruficollis. Downloaded from on 27/03/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 27/03/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Red-breasted goose (Branta ruficollis) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Endangered
Family Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, Swans)
Species name author (Pallas, 1769)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 44,200 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species