Fesiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma.

Winter can be a hard time for nature. With days getting shorter and the weather slowly getting colder and wetter, it’s fair to say that any sensible creature would be hiding away until the warmer climate of spring arrives.

That said, winter in Wales is a very busy time for wildlife. Although summer visitors like swallows and swifts have left for warmer climates, thousands of new migrants will settle here over the winter months.

One group of birds that make long journeys to feed and shelter on our coastlines and estuaries are geese. Geese are large wildfowl, easily recognised by their long legs, webbed feet and broad wings. You might have seen them in flight, using their famous V formation. Some of these stay on our shores year-round, but thousands migrate every year, to escape from the cold and harsh winters of Scandinavia and the Arctic. Here’s a snapshot of what you can expect to see and where over the next few months.

 Greenland white-fronted geese

As their name suggest, these birds breed in Greenland, but they travel from the western coast of the island to winter in northern Europe. They stop off in Iceland for a quick rest, before wintering at a few selected sites in the UK. In Wales, they come to RSPB Ynys-hir, taking advantage of the rich feeding grounds on the estuary, although there’s a chance of spotting the odd goose at other sites in Wales as well, especially on Anglesey.

Unfortunately, these birds are struggling for survival. After years of over hunting and shooting, their numbers have fallen drastically, with the total global population now under 20,000. The numbers visiting Wales have also fallen. In 1991, 179 geese spent their winter at the reserve, compared to only 17 in 2018.

However, there is hope for these rare geese. The Welsh Government recently committed to a legal ban on hunting, thanks to a five-year campaign led by RSPB Cymru and other organisation like Natural Resources Wales, The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, local wildfowling clubs and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

We are also trying to learn more about them. In 2016, we fitted satellite collars on two of the birds that wintered at RSPB Ynys-hir, so that we could see what areas on the estuary they were using and where there breeding grounds were. This proved to be very successful, and has showed that the Dyfi population has links to both the Scottish and Irish wintering birds. It also highlights the incredible migrations that they undertake, flying nonstop from the Dyfi Estuary to western Iceland in one single flight over a 24-hour period!

Barnacle geese

Another type of goose that come to RSPB Ynys-hir is the barnacle goose. A small number of these black and white geese started wintering on the reserve 20 years ago. We originally thought that these were wild birds, but after a colour ringing project, we learned that they come from a feral population in the Lake District. They usually arrive in September, and by January, they are gone. It’s a mystery where they go after they leave and before they return to north England.

Canada geese

Although Canadian geese are one of the commonest and perhaps the most easily recognisable species, they are not native to Wales. They were introduced to the UK from north America, and they are now annual residents. A good number can be seen at RSPB Conwy, and they also visit RSPB Newport Wetlands. They’re also the commonest water bird at RSPB Ynys-hir, and can be seen year-round as they use the sand backs of the estuary as shelter.

Other visitors

Brent geese winter at several sites in north Wales, mainly around Anglesey and the Menai Straits. They occasionally visit RSPB Conwy, to feed on the wet grasslands of the Conwy estuary. You can also spot the occasional pink footed geese at the Conwy reserve. They are rare and brief, as they only stop for a short rest on their way back up north to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.

 The best place to spot them is at RSPB Ynys-hir, but you might also find them at RSPB Cors Ddyga, RSPB Conwy and RSPB Newport Wetlands. It's not only geese that travel from far places to spend their winter here. Many birds, like redstarts, fieldfares and snow buntings, make their way here to flee the harsh and brutal winters of Scandinavia and the Arctic Circle.

Many of our reserves in Wales host winter migrants too. RSPB Lake Vyrnwy is a good place to spot redwings, bramblings and fieldfares, and RSPB Newport Wetlands host a whopping 50,000 strong flock of starlings - a sight not to be missed! Click here to find your nearest reserve and to plan your next trip!

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