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Graylag Goose Life History



This species uses extensive wetlands that provide safety from predators while also offering easy access to grazing areas. During the breeding season, Graylag Geese nest in secure sites such as large wetlands with dense reedbeds or quiet lakes with small islands. These nesting sites are usually near grasslands, meadows, and wetlands where the birds graze. During the winter Graylags favor large, protected wetlands—estuaries, flooded areas, reservoirs, and lakes—where they can feed on aquatic vegetation or forage in nearby grasslands and agricultural areas. Overall, this species uses a broad range of habitats, from arctic tundra to brackish Mediterranean marshes to mountain areas in Mongolia up to 7,500 feet in elevation.

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Graylag Geese are herbivorous, feeding on a variety of plants throughout the year. During the breeding season, they eat the fresh green parts of plants, while during the winter, they target underground storage parts. Favorite summertime plants include marsh plant roots and agricultural grasses; birds also consume leaves, roots, and seed heads from a range of plants. During the winter, these geese feed on grasslands and, depending on availability, barley, oats, wheat, potatoes, carrots, turnips, sugar beets, and other agricultural crops. Graylags that overwinter in marshes focus on eating sedge roots, supplementing this with the leaves of grasses and sedges.

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Nest Placement


The female chooses the nest site, almost always close to water, with the assistance of the male. Typical nest sites are in reedbeds, on the ground, or in trees such as willows.

Nest Description

The female builds the nest over the course of 3–6 days, with the male often staying nearby during the construction process. A nest often starts with a foundation of twigs, with grass, reeds, and other vegetation then piled on top. A cup within the nest is then lined with grass and down. Typical nest dimensions are a diameter of 31–43 inches and a height of 5–24 inches. The cup is 10 inches in diameter with a depth of 2–6 inches.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:4-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:3.0-3.8 in (7.7-9.7 cm)
Egg Width:2.1-2.6 in (5.3-6.6 cm)
Incubation Period:27-28 days
Egg Description:

Creamy white; can become stained darker during incubation.

Condition at Hatching:

Fully covered with brown and yellow down, able to leave nest shortly after hatching.

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Ground Forager

Graylag Geese are monogamous, forming lifelong pair bonds when they are three or four years old. Graylag Geese typically nest in isolated pairs, but in certain situations, they breed in colonies. Both males and females care for their young, and family groups remain together until the following breeding season.

Outside of the nesting season, this species forms large flocks composed of several family groups. Flock members establish a hierarchy among themselves, and top-ranking birds remain on alert while other flock members forage. If a predator appears, the entire flock mobs the intruder. If the flock includes unfledged young, adults from several families form a circle to protect all goslings, while other flock members might attack the predator. Graylags typically feed by grazing in fields and other open areas, but they also forage on the water, sometimes "tipping up," or submerging their head and lifting their tail end, to reach underwater vegetation.

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Least Concern

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists Graylag Goose as Least Concern. This is based on BirdLife International’s 2018 assessment, which notes this goose’s extremely large range and an extremely large population size that appears to be increasing. The global population was estimated at 1.0–1.1 million individuals in 2006.

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BirdLife International (2023). IUCN Red List for birds.

Cramp, S., and K. E. L. Simmons, Editors (1977). The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Volume 1. Ostrich to Ducks. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Delany, S., and D. Scott. (2006). Waterbird population estimates. 4th edition. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands

International Union for Conservation of Nature (2022). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2022-2.

Jonsson, L. (1992). Birds of Europe with North Africa and the Middle East. Christopher Helm, London.

Madge, S., and H. Burn (1988). Waterfowl: An Identification Guide to the Ducks, Geese and Swans of the World. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA, USA.

Reeber, S. (2015). Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, USA.

Svensson, L., K. Mullarney, and D. Zetterström (2009). Collins Bird Guide. Second edition. HarperCollins, London, UK.

Svensson, L., K. Mullarney, and D. Zetterström (2009). Collins Bird Guide. Second Edition. HarperCollins, London, UK.

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