The Migration of the Pink-Footed Geese: A Natural Norfolk Phenomenon

The Migration of the Pink-Footed Geese: A Natural Norfolk Phenomenon
Bird Watching

The arrival of the Pink-footed Geese in Norfolk has come to herald the start of the Autumn and Winter season for many bird-watchers and nature lovers. Every year this unique bird visits our shores in greater and greater numbers to roost for the Winter, before returning home to their breeding ground in Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland in Spring. Their numbers increase steadily throughout October, and by the end of November most of the geese will have arrived.

Pink-footed Geese have come to be regular visitors to the Norfolk region, and in our latest blog post we take a closer look at just why that is.

The Pink-Footed Goose

The Pink-footed Goose is a medium-sized goose, not quite as big as a Mute Swan, but larger than a Mallard. It is a pinkish-grey in appearance, with a dark head and neck, and distinctive, trademark pink legs and feet. As has been previously mentioned, the Pink-footed Goose does not breed natively in this country, but many choose to spend the Winter here due to the greater protection afforded to Winter roosts.

The quantities of Pink-footed Geese winterering in the UK has risen exponentially in recent decades due to the ban on the sale of shot geese in the 1970s, and the ample Winter food supplies on these shores. The numbers of Pink-footed Geese visiting the UK from 1950 to 2004 grew from 30,000 to 292,000.

Amidst this huge annual migration, roughly 100,000 Pink-footed Geese choose Norfolk as their Winter abode, with some 30,000 roosting on the sandbanks of The Wash. There, the geese are safe from the jaws of marauding foxes, and spend the night out on Bulldog Sand or Stylemans Middle before venturing out at dawn in search of food.

Pink-Footed Geese in Norfolk

The Pink-footed Goose is not only attracted to Norfolk for the Brancaster mussels or Cromer crabs, but for a rather less well known delicacy - the sugar beet. The geese feast on the cut off tops of sugar beets that have been discarded after the root has been churned up by harvesting tractors. The geese eat the leaves on the beets, but prefer the sweet top of the root. These tasty geese treats allow the 'pinkies's, as some locals refer to them, to refuel after a gruelling migration, and to stock up for the winter. RSPB Warden, Paul Eele explains that

"The pinkies are attracted to Norfolk because of the sugar beet. The birds feed on the tops and tails of the sugar beet left in farmer's fields. This high-energy food helps the birds remain fit and keep warm through the Winter months".

Pink-footed Geese can be skittish and are easily disturbed. If you do happen upon a flock feasting on sugar beets then it's best to be discreet, and to watch from a distance. The best place to see the Pink-footed Geese in all their glory is at one of their roosting sites among the Norfolk mudflats and saltmarshes. Here the geese can be seen at dawn or dusk, either on their way to feed for the day, or to return home in the evening after a hard day of eating sugar beets.

To see the Pink-footed Geese, head down to Brancaster Staithe, Holkham National Nature Reserve or Snettisham RSPB and consult with local warden and volunteers on the best time to see this Natural Norfolk phenomenon.