- Branta ruficollis (Pallas, 1769)
- Anas ruficollis Pallas, 1769
IUCN: VU; Be (II); Bo (AEWA); EUBD (I); CITES (II); RDBUkr: Вразливі
Value of species
This species has a moderately small population which appears to be declining over a short time period. The reasons for this decline are largely unknown. Trend calculations are complicated by interannual variation in survey coverage and reporting across its range. Small populations of other Arctic breeding geese have shown dramatic population fluctuations and this may prove to be the case for this species. The species is precautionarily listed as Vulnerable, however if it is found that recent increases are genuine and not a result of improved monitoring efforts or range shifts the species may warrant further downlisting.
This species 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 (A. Mikityuk in litt. 1999, Rusev et al. 2008, Cranswick et al. 2010). 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 (Rusev et al. 2008, Cranswick et al. 2010) 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). In 2015, Wetlands International increased its global population estimate from c.44,000 to c.56,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2015).
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. 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. In 2015, Wetlands International increased its global population estimate from c. 44,000 to c. 56,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2015).
It breeds in tundra or scrubby 'wooded' tundra (Madge and Burn 1988, del Hoyo et al. 1992), 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). 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. 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). 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).
The species nests in hollows and fissures in the ground, usually 50-80 mm deep and 200 mm in diameter (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.
This species is highly migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Following the post-breeding moult it migrates southwards over land 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 (Madge and Burn 1988, del Hoyo et al. 1992, S. Rozenfeld in litt. 2012), although up to 37 have been observed (Kear 2005).
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