The Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) normally breeds in Greenland, Iceland, parts of Norway, and a limited stretch of northern Russia. Despite having somewhat limited breeding grounds, Pink-footed Geese spend their winters in several different areas in Europe and are known to occasionally get turned around while migrating and wind up somewhere unexpected. This phenomenon is called vagrancy. Vagrant birds are birds which, through a variety of circumstances including weather or navigational defects, end up in a place that is outside of their normal range. One of the most famous vagrant birds in recent years is this Steller’s Sea Eagle which is native to Russia and northeastern Asia, but which has been tracked traversing the United States and has even been spotted as far south as Texas.
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Vagrancy in Pink-footed Geese is not common, but not unheard of either. On more than one occasion, a lost Pink-footed Goose has been found in eastern Canada. Now, for the very first time, a vagrant Pink-footed Goose has been spotted in Michigan.
On Monday, April 10th, a birdwatcher in Kingsley, a town in Grand Traverse County, Michigan, spotted the tell-tale pink legs of a Pink-footed Goose. This sighting is unprecedented in Michigan and has generated a substantial buzz for Michigan birdwatchers. Over the next few days, crowds of eager Michigan birders flocked to the field where the Pink-footed Goose was spotted. For most, this is the first opportunity that they have had to view this European bird.
By the end of the day on Tuesday, April 11th, a total of 77 sightings of the Pink-footed Goose were entered into eBird, the birdwatching website which tracks sightings for research purposes and allows birdwatchers to keep track of their sightings as well as so-called “life lists.” The huge jump in sightings is evidence of the excitement that the vagrant bird generated within the birdwatching community of Grand Traverse County as well as Michigan on the whole.
As of the morning of Wednesday, April 12th, the Pink-footed Goose which was at the center of all of this excitement has managed to slip away from the watchful eyes of its observers. It has not been sighted since, and it is unknown whether or not the lost bird remains in the area.
While this sighting is not the first Pink-footed Goose sighting in the United States, it is one of a rather short list of sightings of vagrant Pink-footed Geese south of Canada. In past years, Pink-footed Geese have been spotted as far south as Kentucky, as in 2022 when a months-long string of sightings drew excited birders from surrounding states, Pink-footed Geese in the United States remain an incredibly rare occurrence.
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