Red-breasted geese breed on the tundras of arctic Europe. They often choose sites close to the nests of birds of prey such as peregrine falcons and snowy owls. While this might seem a dangerous thing to do, in fact it seems to provide protection from other predators such as arctic foxes.
In the winter, the birds move south. Up to 70% of the world's red-breasted geese winter around lakes in north-east Bulgaria, where flocks hundreds of thousands strong form to graze, a stunning sight. They have moved their feeding grounds here from the former Soviet Union, where changes to agricultural practices, especially the conversion of wheat fields to cotton plantations, spelled disaster. But new threats face them in their new home - the hunters of Romania and Bulgaria not only kill birds, but disturb the flocks' daily feeding routine so much that they cannot spend enough time feeding.
Although conservation efforts in the 1990s led to the red-breasted goose's conservation status improving to Vulnerable, in recent years it has suffered a rapid and unexplained decline and is therefore considered Endangered once again.
As yet, we do not know if this is a temporary, natural fluctuation in the population, or whether it signals an approaching crisis for these beautiful little geese.
Red-breasted geese have lived at Durrell's headquarters in Jersey since the 1980s, and have bred regularly. Pairs form in the spring and establish nest sites around the site, and can be quite aggressive as they defend them against intruders. The eggs are usually taken to be hatched by our bird staff to prevent them being lost as they are not in protected enclosures, and are replaced by artificial eggs. When the chicks hatch they are returned to their parents.