Why I don't mind living under a flight path in Norfolk

Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus North Norfolk winter

Pink-footed geese flying high during the north Norfolk winter - Credit: David Tipling

Reserves officer at Norfolk Wildlife Trust Robert Morgan says geese in the county continue to fascinate us

Regularly at dusk at this time of year a strange distant noise begins to build, then emerging from the gloom huge skeins of pink-footed geese appear, their classic V-formations marked out against a darkening sky.

Maybe a thousand or more come over my house, each uttering their high-pitched honk of 'wink-wink'.

Norfolk has become, once again, important winter quarters for this species.

From a low in the 1950s of only a few thousand, counts of well over 150,000 birds have been noted in recent years and this represents a large proportion of the world population.

This ‘grey’ goose is predominately brown, and relatively diminutive, its chocolate coloured head and small brown, orange banded bill are its defining features.

They can often be seen in large groups on inland grazing marshes or winter wheat-fields, and in recent years they have learned to enjoy the discarded sugar-beet tops that are left lying on muddy fields after harvest.

Most Read

Breeding in Iceland and Greenland, successive poor summers and heavy predation of goslings can affect the population, but it is disturbance, changes in agriculture and land development in Norfolk that is their greatest threat, so their protection needs constant vigilance and like many migratory birds, a global strategy.

Egyptian Geese

Elizabeth Dack - Credit: Elizabeth Dack

Norfolk’s other true wild goose is the Brent (although a few hundred white-fronted and bean geese spend the winter with us too).

Brent geese tend to prefer coastal habitats, often loafing among saltmarsh creeks, up-ending occasionally to graze on eel-grass.

When gathered on coastal pastures, and unlike the pink-foot, they can be quite confiding, allowing bird-watchers close views.

The Brent, along with their wintering relative in Scotland the barnacle goose, are termed ‘black’ geese due to the colouring of their head, neck and chest, this ends abruptly in a bold breast band against a lighter belly.

There are two distinct groups, the dark-bellied Brent and the pale-bellied Brent, with the dark-bellied from northern Siberia being by far the most numerous in Norfolk.

Read More: NWT's Robert Morgan on the beauty of snow

A few of the pale form, from the Greenland and Spitsbergen population, are often found among Norfolk flocks (the niceties of our language insists, flock when geese are on the ground, skein when in the air).

The casual observer may argue that there are several other species of geese living ‘wild’ in Norfolk.

This is true, and it is very likely that most people have seen Canada and greylag geese, and in Broadland, Egyptian geese too.

The Canada and Egyptian geese, as their names imply, are non-native resident birds, and in the case of the Canada, semi-tame.

Robert Morgan of Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Robert Morgan of Norfolk Wildlife Trust - Credit: NWT

Both are descended from escapees of formal park lakes and estates.

The greylag, in past centuries, was an indigenous breeding species over much the UK.

After extensive land drainage and former uncontrolled hunting, it was pushed into the remoter parts of the Scottish Western isles.

In the 1930s it was re-introduced into Norfolk as additional quarry for wildfowlers, however, its recent population increase and resulting ecological impacts has divided opinion among wildlife conservationists.

The sight of wild geese is a spectacular winter experience, and they can be highly mobile this time of year, constantly moving around the county in search of food.

Despite lockdown curtailing trips out, you never know, a skein of wintering Greenland pink-foot geese may find their way over your local walking route, in fact it’s not uncommon for them to pass over Norwich city centre.

Find out more at www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk