Archived 2015 topics: Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis) – downlist from Endangered to Near Threatened?

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.

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.

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.

This entry was posted in Archive, Asia, Europe & Central Asia, Middle East, Waterbirds and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Archived 2015 topics: Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis) – downlist from Endangered to Near Threatened?

  1. Dr Anwaruddin Choudhury says:

    It seems that its population did not show sharp decline BUT at the same time also did not increase significantly. Perhaps it is advisable NOT to rush to downlist. There is no harm in keeping it as it is because overall scenario is not good. Habitat degradation, occasional poaching, use of pesticide, developmental activities, etc., are on the rise everywhere. Hence, threat is always there.
    There are only a handful of records of this species from India.

  2. Dr. Johan H. Mooij says:

    The high numbers of Lesser White-fronted Geese and Red-breasted Geese published by some Russian colleagues are rough estimates based on an extrapolation of regional counts in Northern Kazakhstan and the Manych depression. Highest numbers of both species were found in years with high estimated goose numbers in these regions. These high numbers of both species are more likely the result of the count method as the result of an actual population increase (For more details see: MOOIJ, J.H. (2014): Historische und gegenwärtige Bestandsgröße und Verbreitung der Zwerggans Anser erythropus. – Beitr. Jagd- & Wildforschung 39: 269-298.).
    These kind of counts cannot be used as a basis for nature conservation measures for nor for a down listing of both species.

  3. Dr. Szabolcs Nagy says:

    I agree with Johan. For the same reasons, the high estimates were discarded during the production of population size and trend estimates for the 6th edition of the AEWA Conservation Status Report.

  4. I would disagree with the proposed downlisting. The global population of the species has always been determined based on the winter counts of the species. Despite the uncertainty of the size of the decline in early 21st century the coordinated count in January 2013 during IWC from Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria gave a figure of 56 500 birds.
    birds in total. The arctic cold weather that came down from Siberia leave little space for any wintering Redbreasts in southern Russia as they react very swiftly to decrease in temperature and snow cover. This is the highest figure counted in winter period for the past 10 years. The only secure population figure from wintering grounds is that of the late 1990s of 88 to 90 000 birds. Thus clearly there is some decline in population and though the population might be on its way to recovery it is still bellow the figure from the mid and late 1990s. In addition adverse habitat changes have taken place in its wintering grounds in Romania and Bulgaria with windfarm development boost in Dobrudzha. Couple of thousands of turbines in Romanian part and hundreds of turbines in Bulgarian. Data analysis on Bulgarian territory suggest that there is shift in distribution of foraging areas which might be result of the turbines. Based on a field study in 2012-2015 if all consented and planned turbines are built in Bulgarian Dobrudzha the species will loose further 24% of its foraging habitat (Harrison & Hilton, 2014). During the Life+ project implemented in Bulgaria and focused on the species the preliminary analysis of mortality causes of tagged birds done by colleagues from WWT suggest that the mortality during migration due to hunting in Russia and Kazakhstan could be as high as 40% of the population annually. Though the sample is very small it still indicates the significance of the problem. If we combine this with hunting pressure during wintering in Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine which causes high disturbance and reduce feeding time for much of the winter period this makes impact on the species. Recent influx of Redbreast in Hungary with 2000 strong individuals in November-December 2014 might well be indication beside climate change impact of impact of problems at its main wintering grounds.
    If downlisted to NT status this would have only negative impact on the conservation of the species and would not reflect the real status of the species. I think that the proposal is a bit premature given we only now start to scratch on the surface of the conservation problems of the species along its flyway.

  5. The number of passage and wintering Red-breasted Geese increased significantly in Hungary (especially in the Hortobágy region) in the last season (autumn/winter 2014). The highest count in the Hortobágy region reached 2000 birds, whilst the previous maximum was 300.

    Due to the mild winters in the past two years (almost frost- and snow-free winters) in Hungary and also to the conservation efforts (financed mostly from EU LIFE projects) the size of the suitable habitats -hunting-free short grassy areas for feeding and shallow, open water surfaced wetlands for roosting- increased. The ecologically sustainable high level grazing in the protected areas increased the extension of the short grassy habitats ideal as feeding places. The grazing also helped the previously miss-managed wetlands to have more open water surface that serve as roosting places for the geese. Thanks to these changes, the role of the Hortobágy’s significance will grow as passage and wintering place for the RBG. The successful practices used here may be applied to other wintering sites as well.

    The growing numbers in the Hortobágy area do not necessarily mean that the overall world population is growing, but it can also be an alarming sign of the problems at the traditional wintering grounds. In the past few years the number of wintering RBG at the traditional wintering sites became hectic whilst the time the birds spend there shortened too. The conservation of the species is assured neither at the wintering grounds nor at the migratory areas.

    All in all, we do not consider it appropriate to classify the species down as “Near Threatened”.

  6. Dear all,
    during the last 3 years the Red-breasted Goose monitoring scheme in Romania was improved significantly, covering simultaneously over 40 key roosts and foraging grounds. The maximum numbers hardly reach over 10 000 individuals. After Jan 2013, RO and BG don’t reach all together 30 000. If we assume that the global population is around 55 000 individuals, where are the rest? Probably, Ukraine and South Russia, or somewhere else, but without simultaneous and well organized counts we cannot be sure, thus precise population size cannot be obtained. Recently, in Romania there is tendency the highest numbers in the last years to move along the Danube River (at the western limits at the Dobrogea), where there are plenty of inaccessible flooded crops, preferred by the geese as roosts and feeding grounds. The numbers along the Delta and the Black Sea lagoons are decreasing.
    In Romania, the hunting is still adverse threat. Several hunters were caught with killed redbreasts. Their statement was that they did not know that the species is protected. I saw several times hunters shooting at pure flocks of thousands of redbreasts. Common hunting strategy is to shoot in the dark and foggy days at the roosts.
    Discussion among experts along the flyway should be towards improving the coordinated counts and conservation efforts rather than down list the species as Near Threatened.
    Best wishes,

  7. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2015 Red List would be to list:

    Red-breasted Goose as Vulnerable under criterion A.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline (later for this species) of 11 September, after which the recommended categorisation will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife website in late October and on the IUCN website in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  8. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there have been no changes to our preliminary proposal for the 2015 Red List status of this species.

    The final categorisation will be published on the BirdLife website in late October and on the IUCN website in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessment by BirdLife and IUCN.

Comments are closed.