British Waterfowl Association

Greylag Goose

Greylag families - Morag Jones

There are two subspecies of Greylag Goose recognised:

  • Western Greylag  A. a. anser  from Iceland, and N & C Europe; wintering from Scotland S to N Africa and E to Iran.
  • Eastern Greylag  A. a. rubrirostris  from Romania, Turkey and Russia E to NE China; wintering mainly from Asia Minor to E China.

Paintings of birds resembling the Greylag and also the Red-breasted Goose have been found on Ancient Egyptian tombs.

From the Presentation of the Geese, Tomb chapel of Nebamun, c. 1350 BC
Facsimile Painting of Geese, Tomb of Nefermaat and Itet ca. 2575–2551 BC

Anser anser

This abundant grey goose is the ancester of most of our European domestic breeds. The plumage pattern is very clear to see and is very familiar to domestic goose enthusiasts.

Wild Greylag Geese breed in the north, nesting on moorlands, in marshes, around lakes and on coastal islands. Wintering birds migrate south to semi-aquatic habitats, estuaries, marshes and flooded fields, feeding on grass and often consuming agricultural crops.

Some populations, such as those in Southern England and in urban areas across the species’ range, stick around all year. They are adept at exploiting a readily available food source.

Alert Greylag goose standing on cobbles
Greylag Geese - BWA

The study of animal behaviour (ethology) was famously studied by the Austrian zoologist, Konrad Lorenz. Working with Greylags, he investigated the principle of imprinting.  Birds that leave the nest early, like the northern geese, instinctively bond with the first moving object that they see within the first hours of hatching. Lorenz did not discover the topic, but, he became widely known for his descriptions of imprinting as an instinctive bond.

The domestic geese related to the Greylag and those descended from the Swan Goose do interbreed. These crosses have produced the different breeds of Russian geese such as the Tula, Asamas and Kholmogory, plus the beautiful Blue Steinbacher Goose.

A clutch of 3-5 eggs is laid in a ground nest. The female incubates for 28-30 days and both parents defend and rear the young. The birds stay together as a family group until the following year’s breeding season.