Barnacle Goose

Branta leucopsis



The markings on this bird are distinctive; its dull white face is smudged with dark marks between the eye and the bill. The Barnacle Goose is black, white and grey, and its black crown and nape merge into the back of its head. Its neck and breast are all black and its back is crossed in blue-grey, with black-and-white bars. It's smaller than the Canada Goose and is distinctly black-and-white in flight. It has a black tail, a small, dainty bill and its black legs are proportionately longer than other geese. The juvenile's face markings are less clear, and its back is more grey with less obvious white bars – the white is often tinged yellow.


Can be found on coastal lowlands during the winter. Its Arctic territories include steep, treacherous cliffs near the ocean with rich feeding areas nearby. Barnacle Geese are also kept in captivity.


This bird's black-and-white head and black breast assist in identification, even from some distance. It lives in large, vocal flocks where families associate with single birds and pairs without young. Its wings are pointed in flight and flocks fly in 'V' formation. Majority of these geese return to traditional sites in the winter.


Usually feeds on farmland with clover, grass and cereal crops, and pulls up roots with its bill. It also occasionally feeds on estuaries or bogs or in fields with shallow water nearby. Its winter diet includes plants such as rushes, plantains, thrift, samphire, buttercup and daisies.


Since breeding grounds in the Arctic are often on high cliffs, many goslings perish if they jump from nests after hatching. However nesting continues to occur at these locations, suggesting that its a safer method than losing eggs or young to foxes and predators on level terrain. Young birds remain with their parents until the following season, and partners stay together for life.


There are three populations that arrive in Britain and Ireland from the Arctic, arriving in October and staying until late March or early April. Greenland birds travel to Iceland first before migrating to Ireland, and the Western Isles of Scotland. Spitsbergen birds travel via the Norwegian coast to spend winter on the Solway Firth. Birds from Siberia that breed on Novaya Zemlya spend winter in western Europe, however in cold winters, a few of these cross the North Sea to reach eastern Britain. Over 94 000 Barnacle Geese spend winter in the UK (over 20% of world population) and 9 000 in Ireland, with numbers on the increase.

Observation Tips

While this bird is not difficult to identify when visiting the right wintering grounds at the right time of year, the most spectacular viewing spot is the island of Islay of Scotland's west coast.


This bird's call can be compared to the barking of dogs – it's higher pitched than most other geese.