A small and strikingly marked goose of the north, Barnacle Geese were once believed to grow from barnacles. We now know that these migratory wildfowl breed in the Arctic, often nesting on precipitous cliffs to protect their eggs from predators.
Juvenile Barnacle Goose
Barnacle Goose in-flight over a reservoir
Barnacle Goose family in the wintertime
Barnacle Goose swimming in its natural habitat
Portrait of a Barnacle Goose
Family:Ducks, geese and swans
58cm to 71cm
132cm to 145cm
1.3kg to 2.2kg
The Barnacle Goose is a small and vividly patterned wildfowl with a white face, black cap, neck, and breast. The belly is white or pale grey, and their back is barred in black and blue-grey becoming paler toward the tail. Their thick legs and short, stubby bills are black.
Male and female Barnacle Geese look alike, although females are generally smaller. Juveniles start life as downy grey goslings and progress into paler, duller versions of their parents before attaining adult plumage.
The Barnacle Goose is easily identified by its white face, although it may be confused with the related Brent Goose (UK & North America) and Cackling Goose (North America). Barnacle Geese may hybridise with these birds and the larger Canada Goose.
Barnacle Goose walking on grassland
The Barnacle Goose is a small species, similar in length but bulkier than the Mallard. Males are generally larger than females in all respects, although there is significant overlap.
Barnacle Geese have a total length of 58 - 71cm or 23 to 28 inches.
Males weigh 1.5 to 2.2 kilograms (3.3 - 4.9 pounds), and females weigh 1.3 - 1.9 kilograms (2.9 - 4.2 pounds)
These small geese have a wingspan of 132 to 145 centimetres or 52 to 57 inches.
Barnacle Goose taking-off from the water
Barnacle Geese produce a brief honk or bark to maintain contact with partners and young. They call both on the ground and in flight and can be very noisy in flocks, particularly when alarmed.
Barnacle Goose honking
Barnacle Geese are grazers. Grasses like Fescue and Timothy are their most important food sources in the winter, but they eat moss, grass, and herb stems and leaves on their nesting grounds. They eat a lot - sometimes over 150 grams per day (dry weight), and defecate 160 times each day on average.
Barnacle Geese are ready to feed themselves right after hatching. The downy young goslings eat plant matter and learn the best food sources by following their parents.
Barnacle Goose parent feeding with gosling
In the breeding season, Barnacle Geese forage along the shores of lakes and other water bodies in the tundra and on islands, mudflats, and grassy meadows in more temperate areas. Winters are spent foraging in similar habitats like salt marshes, tidal flats, and pastures near the coast.
Barnacle Geese breed in Russia, Greenland, Iceland, and other Northern and Western European countries. They overwinter in parts of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Poland. Some also visit Canada and the northeast coast of the USA during the winter, often in the company of Canada Geese.
Barnacle Geese live in cold, open environments where they can graze freely while keeping an eye out for predators. These wildfowl spend most of their time on land, although they are powerful in flight and comfortable in the water, where they can retreat from predators.
Wild Barnacle Geese are rare in the United States and Canada but regular and common winter visitors to parts of The United Kingdom. Their global population has increased dramatically since the mid-1900s and is now estimated at approximately 880,000 individuals.
In the UK, Barnacle Geese are rare in the summer, although a small population of about 1450 breeding pairs is present throughout the year. However, the population swells in the winter when over 90,000 individuals arrive from Greenland and Svalbard.
The greatest number of Barnacle Geese visit Islay and the Solway Firth on the west coast between September and April. Birds from the much smaller naturalised population are widespread and may turn up at just about any suitable wetland across the UK and England in particular.
Wild Barnacle Geese are occasionally sighted in the Northeast of the United States, from New England south to about Virginia. They are popular ornamental birds, however, so there is always the chance that sightings may be escapees rather than vagrants.
Barnacle Goose in-flight over the marshes
Barnacle Geese have a maximum recorded lifespan of 26 years, although their typical lifespan is estimated at 14 years.
Barnacle Geese are vulnerable to a variety of predators at each stage of their lives. The following birds and mammals are major threats:
Barnacle Geese are protected by various conventions and directives throughout their European Range. In the United Kingdom, these geese are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Barnacle Geese are not endangered. Their global population is increasing, and they are listed as a ‘Least Concern’ species on the IUCN Red List.
Pair of Barnacle Geese walking along the coast
Barnacle Geese nest on the ground in a depression lined with down and soft plant material like moss and grass. Traditional sites are cliffs, which are safe from ground predators like Polar Bears and Arctic Foxes. Increasing numbers now nest on islands, often near nesting seabird colonies.
Barnacle Geese begin to arrive at their breeding territories in April and lay their eggs in May and June. Their eggs hatch after 24 or 25 days, and the young family immediately march to feeding grounds which may be up to 25 kilometres (15 miles) away. They return to their overwintering areas in August and September.
Barnacle Geese lay a single clutch of three to five large (approximately 77 x 50mm) eggs. Their eggs are lightly mottled in brown over a pale grey/cream background colour.
Barnacle Geese generally mate for life, although they may find a new partner in some cases. These faithful birds form pairs that can last up to fourteen years, and just twelve percent of failed partnerships result from divorce, with the vast majority caused by death.
Barnacle Goose at its nest
Barnacle Geese display several aggressive behaviours. Breeding pairs will protect a small territory around their nests, and they become increasingly aggressive toward their own young to encourage their independence as the winter season progresses. These birds have a feeding dominance hierarchy based on group size, meaning larger families get access to the best grazing.
Barnacle Goose being protective
Barnacle Geese are generally migratory, although some populations in the United Kingdom and Western Europe are sedentary. Northern breeders are short to medium-distance migrants, and some vagrants travel as far as the United States.
Populations that nest in the Arctic migrate because their breeding grounds, while ideal in the summer, are too cold and snow-covered to survive throughout the year. The relatively mild climates of the British Isles and Western Europe provide suitable feeding opportunities in the winter.
Barnacle Geese are native to the United Kindom, although they are traditionally winter visitors from Svalbard and Greenland. The small, newly-established resident population is expanding its range and increasing in number.
Barnacle Geese taking-off from natural habitat
Barnacle Geese have a curious myth attached to their name. Until as late as the 1700s, these migratory wildfowl were believed to grow from goose barnacles, which are marine crustaceans that attach to floating driftwood!
Barnacle Geese nest on cliffs to protect their eggs from land predators like Arctic Foxes and Polar Bears. However, this extreme security measure comes with its own set of risks. The goslings are precocial and must feed themselves, necessitating a leap from the cliff to the rocky ground or water below. Many do not survive this first step toward adulthood.
Barnacle Goose numbers in the United Kingdom vary throughout the year from about 4,400 in the summer to over 90,000 in the winter.
The Eurasian wigeon is a medium dabbling duck that commonly breeds across northern Europe, and winters further south, including in the British Isles and occasionally in North America. Rare vagrant breeding pairs can be found in the United States, and small breeding grounds have also been established in northern England and Scotland.
This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
Greater White-Fronted Goose
One of several similar wildfowl species in the Anser genus, Greater White-fronted Geese live up to their name with a distinctive white patch on the front of their face. The species is extremely widespread, although there are several sub-species, each with different breeding and overwintering ranges.
Larger than the Common Scoter this elegant European diving duck spends much of its time at sea and is often seen in company with mixed flocks resting on the water’s surface far out from land.
Tundra Bean Goose
The tundra bean goose is the most common species of bean goose, and breeds on Russian tundra landscapes. Winters are spent grazing on open fields, marshes and agricultural land in western and central Europe and East Asia.
The Tufted Duck is the UK’s most common diving duck and a familiar sight on lakes and ponds across the country. Known for their long, hair-like tufts, these small waterfowl are fairly easy to identify but may be confused with other ducks from the Aythya genus.
Fast and erratic in flight, the Teal is the United Kingdom’s smallest wildfowl species. Despite occurring year-round in low numbers, birdwatchers are most likely to spot these tiny ducks in the winter when large numbers arrive from abroad.
Taiga Bean Goose
Taiga bean geese are a common sight on northern taiga marshes of Siberia and northern Scandinavia in spring and summer, before heading south into Europe each winter. Several hundred individuals spend winters in the UK, with rare vagrant visitors occasionally reported in North America.
One of seven American goose species, the Snow Goose is a noisy migrant that visits the Lower 48 states each winter. These beautiful birds have increased dramatically since the second half of the 20th century.
Despite being only a rare winter visitor to the British Isles, the Smew is one of the countrys most unmistakable and easily identified duck species. Breeding across Central Asia and returning to Western Europe during winter months, smews begin to turn up on inland lakes as well as in coastal regions from November onwards.
One look at the bill of a northern shoveler should be enough to provide you with an accurate species identification: their flattened shovel-like bills are unique among waterfowl and allow them to feed on tiny plankton by sweeping their heads across the water’s surface.
A large colourful duck, often found in coastal areas, the shelduck, is an established breeding waterbird in the UK. British wetlands are also a major wintering ground for the species, hosting up to 30 percent of Europe’s shelduck population each autumn.
A medium-sized diving duck, the greater scaup is known simply as the scaup in Europe, and locally as the ‘bluebill’ in North America. Only a handful of scaup breed in the UK, making it the rarest breeding duck in the British Isles.
A striking and fascinating little diving duck with an unusual courtship display, the Ruddy Duck is a widespread migrant in North America.
Colourful and instantly recognisable diving ducks, red-crested pochards are present in the UK in small numbers, believed to have initially been introduced into the wild from private wildfowl collections. Some breeding does occur in Britain, although the best chance of a sighting comes with the arrival of several hundred migrants each winter.
A speedy migratory wildfowl with a hardcore hairstyle, the Red-breasted Merganser is widespread in coastal and estuarine habitats across the Northern Hemisphere.
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.
Widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, Northern Pintails are distinctive migratory waterfowl. Drakes in breeding plumage are particularly attractive, although the drabber females and non-breeding males are still identifiable by their long necks and graceful form.
Although the pink-footed goose does not breed in Britain, it is a common winter visitor, with over half a million migrating individuals arriving each autumn from breeding grounds in Iceland, Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard peninsula.
One of the world’s heaviest flying birds, and one of the most beautiful too, the Mute Swan is a majestic waterfowl with a mean reputation.
Sightings of wild Mandarin Ducks in the United States cause quite a stir, and it’s easy to see why. These small but eye-catching waterfowl are, in fact, native to the Far East of Asia, although their popularity as an ornamental species has resulted in their introduction to many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom.
Instantly recognizable, the Mallard is a medium-sized dabbling duck that is familiar to people all over the world. These adaptable waterfowl are the ancestor of the modern domestic duck and are found everywhere from remote wilderness lakes to suburban backyards.
One of the most distinctive duck breeds, thanks to their extended streaming tail feathers, the long-tailed duck is a coastal waterbird that spends winters at sea, foraging for crustaceans in marine waters, after breeding on Arctic tundra landscapes.
The Greylag goose is the largest grey goose from the Anser genus of the Anatidae family of waterbirds. A stout, robust and heavyweight bird, the Greylag goose is the closest wild relative and ancestor to the domestic goose. Greylag geese are distributed across much of Europe and Asia, extending into eastern Russia and China. Most populations migrate, but some are sedentary, including in much of Northern Europe.
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.
Goldeneyes are distinctive diving ducks that thrive in cold environments, breeding in boreal forests across Canada, northern Scandinavia and northern Russia. Only when the lakes and coastal areas on their summer territories begin to freeze over as fall approaches do they begin to head south to milder regions where they spend winter months foraging on inland lakes and around sheltered bays.
The Gargeney is a dabbling duck, slightly smaller than a mallard, and considered a rare breeder in the UK, with just over 100 pairs recorded. A fully migratory species, all garganeys spend winters in southern Africa, leaving breeding grounds as early as July, so your window for spotting one on British waters is only a very brief one.
The Gadwall is a widely distributed dabbling duck of the Anatidae family that breeds in the Northern Hemisphere. This hardy duck breeds as far north as Siberia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and coastal Alaska and is found across both the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
The common eider (Somateria mollissima) is a large and widespread sea duck that is perhaps best known for its valuable insulating down feathers.
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.
Once decimated through overhunting and habitat destruction, the Canada Goose has rebounded to become one of North America’s most abundant and familiar wildfowl.
A small goose species with a short, stubby bill, the brent goose (or brant, as it is known in North America), breeds in the high Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Siberian Russia and northern Europe’s Arctic islands. Brant spend winters along North America’s Pacific coast, part of the east coast of the US, and in north-western Europe, from the British Isles to Denmark.
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