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Overview

Brief Summary

These robust geese brood in barren areas in the high north. Barnacle geese lay their eggs on ridges located high off the ground, unreachable for predators. Because the chicks are unable to fly right away, they need to eventually jump off the cliffs. It is a rocky bottom and not all chicks survive the ordeal. Since the end of the 20th century, more and more barnacle geese have been staying in the Netherlands to nest. This probably began with tame birds that went wild.
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Distribution

A casual of accidental visitor to northeast seaboard of North America.
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© WoRMS for SMEBD

Source: World Register of Marine Species

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The species consists of four main migrant populations that utilize various wintering and breeding grounds. These main populations number in the tens of thousands with the largest consisting of well over 100,000 individuals. Other smaller populations have been identified but these populations number only in the few thousands. The wintering grounds of all of these populations are located in the British Isles and coastal Netherlands and are separated by relatively short distances, while their breeding grounds are widely separated in the northern European arctic. These four main populations range from their wintering grounds in northern Scotland to their breeding grounds on the east coast of Greenland:

Greenland population: This population consists of about 45,000 individuals. Their breeding grounds are located on the ice-free coasts of East Greenland. These individuals gather mostly on cliff ledges or on small islands that are close to the shores. In September, when the weather conditions in Greenland worsen, they head for their wintering grounds on the shores and islands of northern Scotland. On their way to Scotland, they make a stop at Iceland for about four weeks and then continue their migration.

Svalbard population: This population consists of about 25,000 individuals. They breed on the islands of the Svalbard archipelago and the small islands that surround it. They leave Svalbard in the middle of September and make a stop on the western coast of Norway before continuing on to their wintering grounds in Solway Firth on the west coast of England. This migration path is about 2,500 to 3,000 km in distance.

Russian population: This population consists of over 100,000 individuals. They breed on the north-west coast of arctic Russia. This population initially wintered in Western Germany, however due to increased interruption of wintering areas in Western Germany and the creation of new grazing areas in the coastal regions of Netherlands the entire population has had to shift their wintering grounds to the Netherlands.

Novaya Zemlya population: This population consists of about 10,000 individuals. They breed in the archipelago islands of Novaya Zemlya off the coast of western arctic Russian mainland. They migrate to the coastal regions of Netherlands to spend the winter.

Additionally, it is believed that an ancient population may also have lived on the north-east coast of Canada, however currently there is insufficient data to support this hypothesis.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Native )

Other Geographic Terms: holarctic

  • Clements, J. 2007. The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
  • Gosler, A. 2007. Birds of the World: A Photographic Guide. New York: Firefly Books.
  • Sale, R. 2006. A Complete Guide to Arctic Wildlife. New York: Firefly Books.
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Range

Greenland to Novaya Zemlya; winters to n Mediterranean.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Physical Description

Morphology

Branta leucopsis in adult plumage has a rounded body, a rounded head, and a relatively short neck. The white feathers on the head cover a greater portion of the face than that of Branta canadensis (Canada goose). Overall, the face patch is white or often creamy-white and also extends to the forehead and under the throat. The black coloration of the neck extends below the chest. The ventrum of this species is white colored towards the posterior end and light-gray colored towards the anterior side. A black colored thin strip of feathers joins the eye and the bill. The feet are entirely black colored. The dorsal feathers are dark, bluish-grey. The tail is completely black both on its dorsal and ventral sides. The bill is black colored and short. The feather coloration above the wing is dark grey while the coloration below the wing is light, silvery-grey and white. Plumage is the same in both males and females of the species. However, males are usually larger in body size and weight than females. Adults weigh between 1.4 and 2.2 kg and feature a wingspan of 130 to 145 cm. Body length ranges from 55 to 70 cm.

Young adult barnacle geese (in their first winter) look very much the same as adults with slight plumage color variations. The black feathers of the neck and chest will often have a duller color compared to those of adults. It is possible to see a few brown feathers in the neck region as well. The faces of young birds may have few dark fleckings which can be hard to detect from a distance.

Downy young barnacle geese have grey-brown feathers on their dorsal parts, neck, chest, and crown. The ventrum of the downy young is pale-yellow. The line of feathers that extends from the bill to the eye is dark-grey colored. The feet and the bill are dark-grey colored as well. White spots are common on the wings.

Variation of plumage in adults has been observed but is rare. Adults with entirely dark brown to entirely white feathers have been observed in the past.

Range mass: 1.4 to 2.2 kg.

Average mass: 1.9 kg.

Range length: 55 to 70 cm.

Average length: 64 cm.

Range wingspan: 130 to 145 cm.

Average wingspan: 141 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike; male larger

  • Ogilvie, M. 1978. Wild Geese. South Dakota: Buteo Books.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour This species is fully migratory and travels on a narrow front (Kear 2005a) between extremely localised breeding and wintering areas (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It is present on its breeding grounds from May or June to August or September (Kear 2005a) where it breeds in small but often closely packed colonies (Madge and Burn 1988, del Hoyo et al. 1992) of 5-50 pairs, occasionally singly or in groups of up to 150 pairs (Snow and Perrins 1998). It uses the same nesting sites year after year (Johnsgard 1978) and sometimes nests among seabird colonies (Madge and Burn 1988). After the young hatch the adults undergo a flightless moult period near the breeding grounds between mid-July and mid-August that lasts for 3-4 weeks (Scott and Rose 1996). The species migrates to autumn staging areas in September (Kear 2005a) from which it travels via regular stop-over sites (Madge and Burn 1988) to the wintering grounds, arriving in late-September (Kear 2005a). The return migration begins in April or May, the species moving to spring staging areas where it may be present for 20-30 days before migrating northwards (Kear 2005a). The species is highly gregarious outside of the breeding season, often feeding in dense concentrations on coastal grasslands during the winter (Madge and Burn 1988). In winter habitats it roosts on water (Madge and Burn 1988) or on sandbanks near saltmarshes and pastureland (Peberdy 1991). Habitat Breeding The species breeds in Arctic semi-desert tundra (fjellmark) (Kear 2005a)on crags, rocky outcrops (del Hoyo et al. 1992), cliffs, rocky slopes (Johnsgard 1978) and coastal islands (Svalbard) (Kear 2005a) near wetlands such as lakes, rivers, marshes, the upper parts of fjords, coastlines (Johnsgard 1978), wet meadows and mudflats (Kear 2005a). In years when the snow is slow to melt the species first forages on grassy vegetation on south-facing mountain slopes fertilised by the droppings of cliff-nesting seabirds before moving down to breeding areas (Kear 2005a). It also returns to these slopes after the moulting period before autumn migration (Kear 2005a). After the young hatch families may disperse away from rocky ground to more vegetated areas surrounding tundra lakes and rivers (Kear 2005a). Non-breeding During the non-breeding season the species frequents tidal mudflats, saltmarshes (Johnsgard 1978, Kear 2005a) and adjacent coastal meadows (Johnsgard 1978, del Hoyo et al. 1992) (especially improvedrough pasturesand arable land (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kear 2005a)), with agricultural fields becoming increasingly more important as winter feeding areas (Scott and Rose 1996). Diet The species is herbivorous (del Hoyo et al. 1992) its diet consisting of the leaves, stems and seed-heads of grasses, sedges, aquatic plants (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kear 2005a), mosses (Kear 2005a), various herbs (especially white clover Trifolium repens in the winter) (Peberdy 1991, Vickery and Gill 1999) and shrubs (e.g. arctic willow Salix arctica) (Johnsgard 1978). It may also take agricultural grain and vegetables during the winter (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Breeding site The nest is a shallow depression in a low mound of vegetation (Snow and Perrins 1998) positioned on rocky ground (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Kear 2005a), rocky outcrops (Johnsgard 1978, Snow and Perrins 1998), among rocky crags, on steep cliffs (Johnsgard 1978, Madge and Burn 1988, Snow and Perrins 1998), on the tops of low hills (Johnsgard 1978), or on low vegetation hummocks and snow-free patches on islands in river channels (Snow and Perrins 1998). Nesting sites accumulate nesting materials as they are often used year after year (Johnsgard 1978), and the species may sometimes nest among seabird colonies (Madge and Burn 1988). Management information An investigation carried out in one of the species's wintering areas (UK) found that it was most likely to forage on improved grasslands with high abundances of the grass Lolium perenne and white clover Trifolium repens (Vickery and Gill 1999) (the growth of which is greatly influenced by the amount of summer grazing, which controls the grass height) (Peberdy 1991). Preferred fields were between 4 and 10 ha in area (the species avoided fields of less than 2-3 ha), and at an optimal distance of less than 5 km away from roosting sites (maximum 7 km away) (Vickery and Gill 1999). The species was also found to show a preference for grasslands with swards less than 10 cm in height (optimum 2 cm) in fields that had been cut for silage and then grazed (although there was no major difference in feeding intensity on pastures grazed with different livestock) (Vickery and Gill 1999). Overall winter use of grassland fertilised with large amounts of nitrogen was significantly greater than the use of unfertilised grassland by the species (Vickery and Gill 1999). The Barnacle Goose Management Scheme (BGMS) in Scotland, UK recommends fertilising farmland adjacent to reserves containing wintering groups of this species at times when geese are present (e.g. autumn or winter) and grazing stock (sheep or cattle) are absent (Cope et al. 2003). The BGMS also awards payments to farmers who manage pastures outside of established reserves for reducing the level of disturbance (e.g. scaring away feeding flocks) on their land (Cope et al. 2003).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
  • Marine
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Depth range based on 205 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 15 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): 10.632 - 10.887
  Nitrate (umol/L): 6.523 - 12.829
  Salinity (PPS): 32.748 - 35.253
  Oxygen (ml/l): 6.189 - 6.507
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.479 - 0.734
  Silicate (umol/l): 2.463 - 8.436

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): 10.632 - 10.887

Nitrate (umol/L): 6.523 - 12.829

Salinity (PPS): 32.748 - 35.253

Oxygen (ml/l): 6.189 - 6.507

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.479 - 0.734

Silicate (umol/l): 2.463 - 8.436
 
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The species often occupies pasture land, salt marshes, and grassy fields near the coastal regions of the European arctic and the British Isles. Although conservation efforts have allowed the generation of designated areas from which the species can benefit, they have been known to graze in farming and suburban areas. During the breeding season, females are known to construct their nests in rocky areas on hillsides. Areas with an abundance of tundra vegetation, coastal dunes, and marshes are preferred by this species.

Range elevation: 0 to 40 m.

Average elevation: 15 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; polar ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: tundra

Wetlands: marsh

Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural

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Depth range based on 205 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 15 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): 10.632 - 10.887
  Nitrate (umol/L): 6.523 - 12.829
  Salinity (PPS): 32.748 - 35.253
  Oxygen (ml/l): 6.189 - 6.507
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.479 - 0.734
  Silicate (umol/l): 2.463 - 8.436

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): 10.632 - 10.887

Nitrate (umol/L): 6.523 - 12.829

Salinity (PPS): 32.748 - 35.253

Oxygen (ml/l): 6.189 - 6.507

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.479 - 0.734

Silicate (umol/l): 2.463 - 8.436
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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Trophic Strategy

The species is herbivorous and mainly feeds on grass, aquatic vegetation, or human agricultural crops. On their breeding grounds, they will eat vegetation that is available in the tundra. In their wintering grounds they will often occupy fields and farmlands to feed on grass. This often causes a conflict with farmers.

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

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Associations

The species acts as a seed-dispersant for many grasses and is also a prey item for other species such as peregrine falcons, polar bears, and Arctic foxes.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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During the breeding season in the arctic, top predators of this species are polar bears and Arctic foxes. Barnacle geese parents are known to aggressively physically defend their nests and young. Peregrine falcons are also known to hunt this species. During flight, if barnacle geese are threatened by aerial predators such as peregrine falcons, the flock adopts initiate fast turns in synchrony to confuse the attacker and avoid predation.

Known Predators:

  • polar bears (Ursus maritimus)
  • Arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus)
  • peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus)

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Barnacle geese generate monosyllabic, rapid, loud calls to warn nearby geese of approaching predators. These calls often resemble the yapping of small dogs. They may generate loud calls to warn of aerial predators during flight as well.

Duets are usually performed during the mating season and serve the purpose of strengthening pair bonds between mates. A duet is often initiated by the male who makes short, rapid, loud calls. These calls are followed by similar loud calls from an interested female. Duets may also be initiated right after the initial mate selection in young barnacle geese. Vocal duets are often accompanied by visual displays by the male, who points his beak in alternating directions or holds his head close to the ground. If the female accepts his display, she allows him to approach and touch her with his bill.

During migration, barnacle geese are presumed to utilize magnetic fields to direct their flights.

Like most birds, barnacle geese perceive their environments through tactile, auditory, visual and chemical stimuli.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic

Other Communication Modes: duets

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical ; magnetic

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Life Expectancy

In the wild, Branta leucopsis may live up to 25 years of age. In captivity where they are protected from predators and are provided sufficient food, they may live up to 30 years of age.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
18 to 25 years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
24 to 30 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
20 to 23 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: captivity:
23 to 28 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 26.9 years (wild)
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Reproduction

Barnacle geese that have reached sexual maturity will choose their partners in early spring. Partner retention in Branta leucopsis is lifelong and monogamous. This partnership is believed to be established with a triumph ceremony in which the male will vocalize and change postures to impress the female. During this ceremony, the male will make loud calls and change the orientation and angle of his head relative to ground. If the female is willing to participate, she responds with loud calls and the male will increase the intensity of his movements and later try to approach the female. At times during the triumph ceremony, if a male catches the attention of a nearby female, he may exaggerate his displays by flicking his wings and lowering his head closer and more parallel to the ground. The goal of the male in this ceremony is to make contact with the female with his bill. If the female does not draw herself away, the male takes it as a sign of acceptance and forces all nearby males away. It is also believed that pairs may engage in the triumph ceremony each year to strengthen their partnership.

Mating System: monogamous

The breeding season occurs in spring, spanning from late May to June. Barnacle geese reaches sexual maturity at two years of age. However, rarely, males will be observed breeding at one year of age with females that are older. Barnacle geese that have mated for the first time at four years of age have also been recorded. It is believed that the age in which these geese mature may be related to environmental factors such as food availability and overall weather conditions. The female usually lays one egg per day until the desired clutch size (4 to 5 eggs) can be obtained. These eggs are pale gray colored. The clutch is incubated for 24 to 26 days and the young typically fledge 40 days after hatching.

Breeding interval: Barnacle geese breed once a year in spring.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs in the spring, usually between late May and June.

Range eggs per season: 3 to 6.

Average eggs per season: 4 to 5.

Range time to hatching: 24 to 26 days.

Range fledging age: 40 to 45 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 (low) years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; oviparous

Nests are constructed by females, often on cliff edges to avoid predators such as the arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus). Nest building materials include mud and dead foliage. Prior to laying her eggs the female lines the nest with down. The female will incubate the eggs for 24 to 26 days. During this time, the male will guard the nest and the female. During the incubation period, it is energetically costly to incubate and defend the eggs as the parents cannot forage far away from the nest. This causes both the female and the male to lose 30% to 40% of their total body weight. Barnacle goose hatchlings are precocial and leave the nest as soon as their downy feathers have dried. Parents lead their brood to marshes with abundant vegetation, but the young are entirely responsible for feeding themselves. The young are aggressively defended by both parents until they fledge and become independent after 40 to 45 days. Families remain together even after the young are considered independent. These family groups will perform their first migration together to the wintering grounds, but will disperse before the following breeding season as parents become increasingly territorial.

Parental Investment: precocial ; male parental care ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents

  • Attenborough, D. 1998. The Life of Birds. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  • Bigot, E., M. Hausberger, J. Black. 1995. Exuberant youth: The example of triumph ceremonies in Barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis). Ethology Ecology & Evolution, 7: 79-85. Accessed April 14, 2011 at http://www.fupress.net/index.php/eee/article/viewFile/686/632.
  • Goodfellow, P. 1977. Birds as Builders. New York: Arco Publishing.
  • Jonker, R., M. Kuiper, L. Snijders, S. Van Wieren, R. Ydenberg, H. Prins. 2011. Divergence in timing of parental care and migration in barnacle geese. Behavioral Ecology, 22 (2): 326-331.
  • Ogilvie, M. 1978. Wild Geese. South Dakota: Buteo Books.
  • Skutch, A. 1976. Parent Birds and Their Young. Austin: University of Texas Press.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Branta leucopsis

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 5 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

TTTTCTACTAACCACAAAGATATCGGCACCCTATACCTCATCTTCGGAGCATGAGCAGGAATAGTCGGCACCGCACTCAGCCTATTAATCCGCGCAGAACTAGGACAACCAGGGACTCTCCTAGGTGACGACCAAATTTACAATGTAATCGTCACCGCCCACGCCTTTGTAATAATCTTCTTTATAGTCATACCCATCATGATCGGAGGATTCGGCAACTGATTAGTACCCCTCATAATCGGCGCCCCCGACATAGCATTCCCCCGAATAAATAACATGAGCTTTTGACTCCTCCCACCATCATTCCTCCTACTACTAGCCTCGTCCACGGTAGAAGCTGGCGCCGGTACAGGCTGAACTGTATACCCTCCCCTGGCAGGTAACCTCGCCCACGCCGGGGCTTCAGTAGACCTGGCTATTTTCTCACTTCACTTAGCCGGTGTCTCCTCCATCCTTGGGGCCATCAACTTCATTACCACAGCCATCAACATAAAACCCCCCGCACTCTCACAATACCAAACCMCACTATTCGTCTGATCCGTCCTGATCACTGCCATCCTACTCCTCCTATCGCTCCCCGTACTCGCCGCCGGAATCACAATACTACTAACTGACCGAAACCTAAACACCACATTCTTCGACCCCGCCGGAGGGGGAGACCCAGTCCTGTACCAACACCTATTCTGATTCTTCGGACACCCAGAAGTCTA
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Branta leucopsis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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