Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Geese flying further north due to climate change

  • Written by  Helena Hosking
  • Published in Wildlife
Geese flying further north due to climate change
19 Sep
Migratory animals are actively adjusting their traditions to cope with the environmental crisis, new research has found

Barnacle geese are adjusting to rising temperatures in Norway, having migrated 250km further north from their traditional staging areas. This has been in response to earlier spring temperatures melting the ice at their usual stopping points along their journey from the UK to their breeding grounds on Svalbard. The migratory change is further encouraged by sufficient food supplies further north as the migration patterns of marine life also become affected by rising ocean temperatures, causing Atlantic species of cod, herring and mackerel to move northwards.

Subscribe to Geographical today for just £38 a year. Our monthly print magazine is packed full of cutting-edge stories and stunning photography, perfect for anyone fascinated by the world, its landscapes, people and cultures. From climate change and the environment, to scientific developments and global health, we cover a huge range of topics that span the globe. Plus, every issue includes book recommendations, infographics, maps and more!

Notably, it’s younger geese that are altering the migration routes. This is a possible result of their inclination to explore, however, due to barnacle geese’s socially-learned behaviour patterns, older geese are following their younger counterparts as they travel. The population of barnacle geese is now spreading across a far wider range, which Dr Thomas Oudman of the School of Biology at the University of St Andrews, author of a new study into the geese, notes is ‘like spreading your chances when gambling’ - referring to the geese’s survival options. Oudman identifies this ‘innovativeness’ in adapting patterns of migration as a possible reason for the rapid growth rate of barnacle geese, numbers of which have doubled in the last 25 years. This is not, however the case for other species whose ‘social learning’ isn’t as innate or rapid as that of geese.

migrating geeseBarnacle geese are finding new food sources further north (Image: University of St Andrews)

In the natural world, changing growth rates or migratory patterns will have a knock-on effect for other species through alterations to the food chain and competition for differing resources. Oudman notes that barnacle geese are thriving in their newly colonised environment and are ‘pushing out pink-footed geese’, therefore gaining a larger supply of the agricultural land available to feed on. He also observes that changes in food availability in the staging areas influence reproductive success, another factor contributing to the geese’s population increase.

migrating geeseThe geese are changing habits due to climate change (Image: University of St Andrews)

The barnacle geese are, however, now under increasing threat from polar bears hunting for the birds’ eggs on the coast of Svalbard. Like the geese, polar bears are also learning alternative habits to adjust to climate change as the ice where they would otherwise be hunting seals is melting. On average, spring is advancing by half a day each year, meaning ice is breaking up and melting earlier and earlier, forcing polar bears to come ashore during nesting time for the geese.

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...


An overlap between populations of grizzly bears and Indigenous groups…


Climate change is having a huge impact on the oceans,…


The first COP26 draft agreement has been released


Marco Magrini explores the complex issue of carbon markets –…


The youth found marching outside the COP26 conference in Glasgow…


Energy day at COP26 was all about coal. Marco Magrini…


The world is reliant on the climate models that forecast…


Geographical editor, Katie Burton, spends the day at COP26: finance…


Lawyers are using the power of the courts to challenge…


Mike Robinson, chief executive of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society…


Will China's climate pledges be enough to achieve Xi Jinping's…


Net zero. It’s the phrase that polarises scientists and environmental…