Endangered screaming geese make rare Finland flight

Only 100 lesser white-fronted geese survive in the northern flock, but numbers are slowly growing.

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A lesser white fronted goose with a tracking device / Credit: LWG facebook

If you look to the skies this week, you might be lucky enough to see a flock of endangered ‘screaming geese’ as they make a rare flight south over Finland to their winter habitats.

Experts say there could be as many as 89 screaming geese – more formally known as lesser white-fronted geese – which started a journey in northern Norway, before crossing into Finland and down past Rovaniemi.

Usually the geese, which are a protected species due to their critically low numbers, fly north via Oulu to their summer breeding grounds in Norway. But it’s unusual for them to return south over Finland as well.

The bird gets its Finnish name ‘screaming goose’ or kiljuhanhet because of the noise it makes. “It’s quite unlike any other goose, it’s like a whistling” says Petri Lampila, Chairman of the Lesser White-Fronted Goose Working Group of WWF Finland. You can listen to the screaming goose here.

Researchers are able to track the geese thanks to a transmitter fitted to one bird, which uses the mobile phone network to ping its position every morning.

“There is definitely one bird, and maybe as many as 89” says Petri Lamipla.

“This bird with the tracker is male, and he has a female and three chicks with him at least, but most likely all the other 88 birds which left the Norway breeding grounds at the same time are on the journey” he adds.

A flight of lesser white fronted geese / Credit: LWG facebook

Only 100 birds in the north

The last time the geese bred in Finland was back in 1995 but the population has been growing slowly, so experts think they could well start breeding in Finland again soon.

The winter migration will take them via Hungary to Lake Kerkini in Greece, and the birds can fly up to 100km per hour with a good tail wind, settling to rest in marshy areas along the way.

Unlike the common barnacle goose which invades Finland every year, the lesser white- fronted geese can’t just land on just any arable land or open fields.

But they are in danger due to changes in their habitat and the threat of hunters.

“It is quite obvious the main reason for their low numbers is hunting and poaching mostly along the migration routes, rather than in the wintering areas” Petri Lampila tells News Now Finland.

“In Finland and Norway it is a protected species, well, everywhere in the world these days. But the real problem is that in many countries, very similar looking greater white-fronted goose they might be very numerous and they are legal to hunt in many countries” he says.

Flights of fancy

Not all the northern geese take the most direct route to Greece for the winter, only those birds lucky enough to mate and hatch chicks.

Male birds who don’t get lucky in Norway during the summer take the long way round, flying some 4000km out of their way to Russia’s Arctic region, then over western Kazakhstan to finally get to Greece.

Ornithologists don’t know why these bachelor geese go the extra distance, nor what attracts them to one specific peninsula in northern Russia.