Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis breeds on the Siberian tundra, almost entirely within the Taymyr Peninsula, but also in the Gydan and Yamal Peninsulas, and winters in SE Europe and SW Asia, mainly on the north and west coasts of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea (Carboneras & Kirwan 2014). It is currently precautionarily listed as Endangered, because when last assessed it was considered to have a moderately small population that appeared to have declined rapidly over a short time period, for unknown reasons.
Globally, it has a relatively large range in the breeding season (>500,000 km2), but a moderately small one in winter (<50,000 km2), although when last assessed it was not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criteria (B and D2). Its population size is also moderately small (c. 44,000 individuals; Wetlands International 2012), but does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criteria (C and D1). Until recently, the population size was thought to be have declined by >50% since 2000 (Fox et al. 2010), thus exceeding the threshold for listing as Endangered under criterion A.
New data collated from across Europe for the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015) suggest that the species may not have declined so steeply. A combination of official data reported by 27 EU Member States to the European Commission under Article 12 of the EU Birds Directive and comparable data from other European countries, provided by BirdLife Partners and other leading national ornithologists, suggests that the European wintering population may only have declined slightly overall since 2000, although trend calculations are complicated by interannual variation in survey coverage and reporting, as noted by Cranswick et al. (2012) in the international species action plan:
“Counted totals declined dramatically after 2000 (e.g. from 88,000 in 1996–7 and 88,425 in 1999–2000 to just 23,000 in 2001–2). Whilst these, and subsequent counts, provide strong evidence for a large decrease following 2000, it is unlikely that the decline was as severe as the numbers suggest, and these dramatic figures may, in part, be due to surveying effort. During mild winters, some birds remain farther east in the flyway, where surveys are less comprehensive. Large numbers have been recorded at Manych-Gudilo, Russia, during ad hoc surveys in recent winters, and it is suspected that other birds may winter at, as yet, unknown sites. Total counts of 40,800 in spring 2008 (primarily as a result of a large count in Kalmykia) and 44,300 the following winter lend further weight to the suggestion that counts in the mid-2000s were incomplete because birds wintered away from the traditionally surveyed sites.”
Given this uncertainty, and more crucially the fact that this apparently declining species is often restricted to a few locations within its small European wintering range, the species is now classified as Near Threatened at European level, under criterion B2 (BirdLife International 2015). In most winters, Europe holds the entire population of this species, so its status in Europe is globally significant.
In October 2012, c. 150,000 individuals were counted during post-breeding migration in N Kazakhstan (Rozenfeld et al. 2012). A few months later, in January 2013, the highest recent total count from the wintering grounds was made during the International Waterbird Census, when c. 56,000 birds were counted in Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine (N. Petkov in litt. 2013). Even allowing for some mortality during those three months, it seems clear that many birds may now winter farther east, especially in milder winters. Indeed, the species’ winter distribution has already changed significantly since the 1960s, when much of the population occurred along the western coast of the Caspian Sea, mainly in Azerbaijan, and in Iran and Iraq (Kear 2005). Some birds may also now be wintering farther west, as in winter 2014–15 more than 2,000 birds were recorded in Hungary, mostly in the Hortobágy National Park, which was hitherto just a staging site for a few hundred birds. In 2015, Wetlands International increased its estimate of the size of the global population from c. 44,000 to c. 56,000, in line with these more recent counts.
Although the species’ population may have declined since 2000, it has certainly not done so by >50%, and the large uncertainty over the magnitude of any decline means that it is difficult to apply criterion A. Notwithstanding possible recent changes to its winter distribution, however, the species is still heavily reliant on a relatively small number of key sites within its moderately small winter range, as listed in the species action plan – which also makes clear that in some winters the global population is highly concentrated at a few locations, and 90% of birds may occur at just five sites in Romania and Bulgaria (Cranswick et al. 2012). Consequently, it may now be most appropriate to reclassify this species’ global status to the same category as that in Europe – i.e. Near Threatened under criterion B2ab(iii,v).
Comments on this proposal are welcome, as are any data regarding more recent estimates of its population size and trend, along with any information about the threats affecting it across its range.
BirdLife International (2004) Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International (Conservation Series No. 12).
BirdLife International (2015) European Red List of Birds. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/info/euroredlist
Carboneras, C. & Kirwan, G.M. (2014). Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. www.hbw.com
Cranswick, P.A., Raducescu, L., Hilton G.M. & Petkov, N. 2012. International Single Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis). AEWA Technical Series No. 46.
Fox, A. D., Ebbinge, B. S., Mitchell, C., Heinicke, T., Aarvak, T., Colhoun, K., … & Van der Jeugd, H. (2010). Current estimates of goose population sizes in western Europe, a gap analysis and an assessment of trends. Ornis Svecica, 20(3-4), 115-127.
Kear, J. (2005) Ducks, geese and swans. Oxford University Press.
Rozenfeld et al. (2012) The results of goose counts on the North Kazakhstan stopover site in autumn 2012. Casarca 15: 164–175.