A highly sociable and unmistakable member of the goose family, often seen and heard flying in long, noisy packs and lines.
Barnacle geese are medium-sized members of the goose family and are relatively easy birds to identify. The adults have black breasts, necks and tails. The head is mainly creamy-white in colour apart from the crown, patches around the eyes and the bill which are black. The back is grey and the underparts white, becoming light grey on the flanks. Males and females are mostly similar, with males occasionally having a lighter coloured plumage. They have chunky black bills and dark legs. Both the back and wings are a silver-grey colour with black and white bars which appear to shine when the sunlight reflects on it.
Compared to the adult birds, juvenile barnacle geese are duller in colour. They can also have grey markings on their neck and head. They are fully grown at around the age of two.
Barnacle goose close up
Barnacle geese produce short, sharp barking notes - comparable to a small dog - whilst flying and on the ground. They are especially vocal on warm spring days and during the breeding season. Females will give off a "yip" sound when responding to their mate. Both sexes will make softer "hoog" and "hoogoog" calls at close range, with louder variations of these sounds when making more aggressive interactions and alarming calls.
Barnacle geese graze mostly on a vegetarian diet that consists of aquatic plants, stems, leaves and grasses. During the winter months, they will often eat vegetables and grains too.
Pair of barnacle geese flying
In late August, barnacle geese leave their breeding grounds in the Baltic Sea and head to winter in the UK. They spend the months from October to March, although some stay until April, mostly residing in the north-west of Scotland and around the coast in Ireland.
There is also a small resident breeding population which can be found in some eastern and southern parts of England which is slowly increasing in numbers.
During the wintering period, Islay in Scotland and the Solway Firth (England and Scotland) are both good places to see many birds.
In flight, they display a v-shaped white rump with silver-grey linings of the underwings. Generally, the female bird is slightly smaller in size than the male.
Barnacle geese form long-lasting bonds with another bird and will breed between late June and May; this can be in colonies of up to 50 birds. The female will make the nest, usually on a cliff ledge to avoid predators. Nests are made of mud and foliage and are usually lined with down. Females lay clutches of 3-5 white eggs and will solely incubate them for around 25 days. During this time, the male will protect the nest and provide food.
Goslings hatch fully-developed and will leave the nest shortly after birth. They will then follow their parents to nearby marshes, so as to feed themselves. Young birds will fledge around 40 and 45 days old and will start to breed when they are between 2 and 3 years old.
Barnacle goose feeding with goslings
The average lifespan of a barnacle goose is around 14 years, although the oldest recorded bird lived for 26 years, 11 months and 11 days.
This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
During the winter the population of this rare resident breeding duck increases by 55 times to that of the summer, with the influx of many thousands of others overwintering, having arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe.
A native of Japan and China, the mandarin duck was first introduced into the UK in the 18th century and started populations in the wild in the 1930’s following escapes from captivity. The UK population is estimated to be in the region of 7,000 birds.
Widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, the common merganser is the largest of the saw billed fish eating ducks. There are three sub-species with the Eurasian variant frequently known as the Goosander.
Regarded as being sacred by early Egyptians, this native goose of the African continent was introduced into Europe and elsewhere as an ornamental wildfowl species in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century.
The word scoter is often used to define northern sea ducks. There are six different species of scoter, all of which are monotypic and three of which are confined to North America. The Common Scoter like the Velvet Scoter can only be found in Europe and Asia whilst the Stejneger’s Scoter is a native of Asia alone.