The Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) is a species that relies heavily on the plateau wetlands of Asia and whose population was thought to be declining. Over the past decade, south-central Tibet, one of the most
important wintering grounds, supported large numbers of Bar-headed Geese, but the population had not been regularly monitored in this area.
We surveyed wintering Bar-headed Geese along the Yarlung Zangbo, Lhasa and Nyang Qu rivers, the three major river valleys and their tributaries in south-central Tibet in January 2014 and recorded their location, flock size and habitat utilization. Based on these data and the latest wintering counts elsewhere, we revised the population estimate for this species.
We recorded more than 67,000 Bar-headed Geese in south-central Tibet during January 2014. By geographic area, the geese were most abundant in the Lhasa River valley (38.5%) and the Nyang Qu River valley (31.0%), and by administrative division in Lhunzhub (27.2%) and Shigatse (26.7%). Bar-headed Geese were most often observed feeding in winter wheat fields and ploughed fields, resting on pastureland and marshes. The approximate number of 67,000 geese recorded in Tibet is more than four times the estimate of 1993 for the same region and exceeds the most recent world population estimate of 52,000–60,000. Based on our work in Tibet and the latest wintering counts available from other areas, we revised the estimated population size of this species to 97,000–118,000.
Our result reveals a remarkable increase in the number of Bar-headed Geese wintering in south-central Tibet. This population increase most likely stems from a proliferation of cropland and especially winter wheat fields in south-central Tibet. This habitat improvement may also cause short-stopping of the Bar-headed Goose and thus reduce mortality of the geese that would otherwise undertake a somewhat daunting trans-Himalayan migration.