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Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose

At a glance

The barnacle goose is a medium-sized farmyard goose and one of the UK’s smallest geese. It belongs to the family of Branta or black geese, which can be distinguished from all other true geese by their black legs and feet, and includes the Canada goose and the brent goose. For some time, the barnacle goose and the brent goose were considered one species which gave rise to its scientific name Branta.

Key facts

Scientific name: Branta leucopsis
Status: Winter visitor and resident introduced population

Breeding birds: 900 pairs

Wintering birds: 94,000

Conservation status: Amber
Length: 58 – 72 cm
Wingspan: 132 – 145 cm
Weight: 1.3 – 2.2 kg

What do barnacle geese look like?

Adult barnacle geese have grey and black barred upperparts. The side of the rump and the uppertail coverts are white and the rounded tail is black. The flight feathers of the upperwing are black with an inner grey web, the scapulars are pale grey, and the wing coverts are grey with black and white tips.

The underparts are much paler with slight pale grey bars on the flanks. The underwing coverts are pale grey, and the undertail coverts are white.
The head is white or pale buff with a black crown and nape. The short bill is black, the eyes are dark brown with a small eye patch, and the legs and webbed feet are black. Males and females look similar except the male is slightly larger.

Juvenile barnacle geese are duller with a grey neck and the white parts of the head have grey flecks. They have a brown tinge to the upperparts and the flanks are washed with pale buff. They reach full size when they are two years old.

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How do barnacle geese breed?

Barnacle goose breed in late May and June and produce 1 brood a season. They are monogamous and form life-long pair bonds. They breed in colonies of up to 50 pairs as well as solitary pairs. The female builds the nest, which is in a shallow depression in the ground and made from mud and dead leaves, lined with grass, moss and down. They will also nest on the edges of cliffs to try and avoid predators.

Barnacle geese lay 3-6 white, pale grey, or pale yellow eggs which are incubated by the female for 24-28 days while the male guards the nest. Goslings have grey down on their upperparts and white down on their underparts. They are precocial and leave the nest soon after hatching and can feed themselves. They are fully independent at 40-45 days and reach sexual maturity at 2-3 years.

If the nest has been built on a cliff edge then the chicks must jump to the ground as they are unable to fly. This often causes injury or even death although a good number do survive.

What do barnacle geese eat?

Barnacle geese eat grass, stems, leaves and aquatic vegetation. They will also venture onto farmland to eat crops.

Barnacle Goose

Where can I see barnacle geese?

Barnacle geese can be seen between October and March. The best place to spot them is on the Solway Firth in Scotland and England in estuaries, coastal meadows, salt marshes, lakes, and gravel pits.

What do barnacle geese sound like?

David Darrell-Lambert/xeno-canto

Did you know?

A medieval legend said that the barnacle goose was hatched from goose barnacles attached to driftwood because it was not seen in the summer when it was supposedly developing under the water. This meant it was acceptable to eat during Lent, despite the Church’s ban on eating meat, as it was not ‘born of the flesh’.

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