Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)

Barnacle Goose

[order] ANSERIFORMES | [family] Anatidae | [latin] Branta leucopsis | [authority] Bechstein, 1803 | [UK] Barnacle Goose | [FR] Bernache nonnette | [DE] Weisswangen-Gans | [ES] Barnacla de Cara Blanca | [NL] Brandgans


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Branta leucopsis EU nw


The black geese of the genus Branta are waterfowl belonging to the true geese and swans subfamily Anserinae. They occur in the northern coastal regions of the Palearctic and all over North America, migrating to more southernly coasts in winter, and as resident birds in the Hawaiian Islands. Alone in the Southern Hemisphere, a self-sustaining feral population derived from introduced birds of one species is also found in New Zealand. one species has been described from subfossil remains found in the Hawaiian Islands, where it became extinct in prehistoric times. Another undescribed prehistoric species from the Big Island of Hawaii was extremely large and flightless; it is tentatively assigned to this genus due to being very peculiar. It is fairly certain that at least another species of this genus awaits discovery on the Big Island, judging from the facts that at least one species of Branta was found on every major Hawaiian island, and that remains of such birds have not been intentionally searched for on the Big IslandThe relationships of the enigmatic Geochen rhuax to this genus are unresolved. It was another prehistoric Big Island form and remains known only from some parts of a single bird’s skeleton, which were much damaged because the bird apparently died in a volcanic eruption, with the bones being found in an ash-filled depression under a lava flow. A presumed relation to the shelducks proposed by Lester Short in 1970 was generally considered highly unlikely due to that group’s biogeography, but more recently, bones of a shelduck-like bird have been found on Kauai. Whether this latter anatid was indeed a shelduck is presently undetermined. Several fossil species of Branta have been described. Since the true geese are hardly distinguishable by anatomical features, the allocation of these to this genus is somewhat uncertain. A number of supposed prehistoric grey geese have been described from North America, partially from the same sites as species assigned to Branta. Whether these are correctly assigned, meaning that the genus Anser was once much more widespread than today and that it coexisted with Branta in freshwater habitat which it today does only most rarely, is not clear. Especially in the case of B. dickeyi and B. howardae, doubts have been expressed about its correct generic assignment

Physical charateristics

The Barnacle Goose is a small goose easily identified by its black neck and chest, pure white small head, grey striped back contrasting with a very pale underpart . There are some similitudes with the Canada Goose, but the latter has a longer neck.
Also, the Canada Goose has a pale or brown chest, never black.
The Barnacle Goose has a small triangular black beak, black legs and a white rump. In flight, wings look wide.
Three main groups, respectively coming from Greenland, Spitzberg and New Zemble start their migration end of August or beginning September. They never mix and land on Scottish, Irish, and UK west coasts. The third group arrives on German and Netherland shores. In France, the species is normally very rare, limited to a few dozens of individuals found in the Somme and Mount Saint-Michel’s bays. During very cold winters, number of individuals may reach an amount of 8000, found in a larger area, including all coastal bays and estuaries.

Listen to the sound of Barnacle Goose

[audio: Goose.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 120 cm wingspan max.: 142 cm
size min.: 58 cm size max.: 70 cm
incubation min.: 24 days incubation max.: 25 days
fledging min.: 40 days fledging max.: 25 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 6  


Eurasia : Northwest


In summer, the Barnacle Goose frequents cliffs and the mass of fallen rocks of arctic islands. In winter, it lives in flooded meadows and coastal marshes, maritime bays low banks and mud flats at low tide.


Breeding season starts soon after returning in the Arctic. During the courtship display, the couples leap, stretching their neck and flapping their wings. They call loudly. Every bird chooses its partner for the season. Some birds remain in couple all life long. Barnacle Geese gather to nest in colonies. The nest, built mainly with vegetal materials and lined with down, is placed on a cliff’s ledge, an islet close to the shore or directly on the tundra. The nest site is sometimes shared with guillemots. The female lays three to five eggs and sits on them for 24 to 25 days while the male is guarding it watchfully. The altricial fledglings are very active as soon as they hatch out and are ready to fly 40 to 45 days after. The family group remains together during migration and wintering.

Feeding habits

As well as barnacles and geese in general, the Barnacle Goose is mainly vegetarian. Grass is its main diet, although during summer, it can eat various maritime plants shoots. In winter, when grass is not as dense, Barnacle eat also seaweeds, aquatic insects, molluscs and shellfish.
The species eats anytime during the day and prefers the coastal zone grass, regularly flooded by water. If it’s not possible, it turns off towards the meadows behind the coast.

Video Barnacle Goose


copyright: youtube


This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Branta leucopsis has an entirely European distribution, breeding mainly in the far
north, and wintering in north-west Europe. Its breeding population is relatively small
(<54,000 pairs), but increased substantially between 1970-1990. Furthermore, all significant national populations increased during 1990-2000, and the species continued to undergo a large increase overall. As a result of the expansion of its wintering range accompanying this population growth, the species no longer qualifies as Localised in winter.
This goose has three distinct populations. The first one, estimated at 32000 individuals, is breeding in Greenland and wintering in Ireland and north-western Scotland. The second, estimated at 12000 individuals, is breeding on Svalbard and wintering in south-western Scotland. The third population, estimated at 176000 individuals, is breeding on the arctic coasts of Russia and Novaya Zemlaya and wintering mainly in northern Germany and in the Netherlands. Since 1971 this species is also breeding in the Baltic Sea (Sweden, Finland and Estonia) where its population amounted to more than 2000 breeding pairs in 1994. All populations have considerably increased since the 1950’s, thanks to a better protection of their habitats and a reduced hunting pressure.
Barnacle Goose status Least Concern


Migratory. Departs breeding grounds to winter mainly in Britain (Scotland & Ireland) and E coast of N Sea (Netherlands), but has occurred further S (Egypt) and W (N America).

Distribution map

Barnacle Goose distribution range map


Title Heart rate and the rate of oxygen consumption of flying and walking barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) and bar-headed geese (Anser indicus)
Author(s): S. Ward1 C. M. Bishop, A. J. Woakes and P. J. Butler
Abstract: We tested the hypotheses that the relationship bet..[more]..
Source: The Journal of Experimental Biology 205, 3347-3356 (2002) V .

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Title Spring stopover routines in Russian Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis tracked by resightings and geolocation
Author(s): Eichhorn G., Afanasyev V., Drent R.H. & van der Jeugd H.P
Abstract: By attaching 9-g loggers (recording dusk and dawn ..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 94 (3): 667-678

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Title Surfing on a green wave-how plant growth drives spring migration in the Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis
Author(s): van der Graaf A.J., Stahl J. et al
Abstract: The nutritional quality of forage plants varies in..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 94 (3): 567-577.

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Title Travels and traditions: long-distance dispersal in the Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis based on individual case histories
Author(s): van der Jeugd H.P. & Litvin K.Y
Abstract: Long-distance dispersal can have far-reaching cons..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 94 (3): 421-432.

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Title The flight energetics of barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) under
wild and captive conditions
Author(s): C. M. Bishop, S. Ward, A. J. Woakes, P. J. Butler
Abstract: Experimental data on the relationship between mean..[more]..
Source: Acta Zoologica Sinica 52(Supplement): 627-632, 2006

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Title Foraging behavior and site selection of Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis in a traditional and newly colonized spring staging habitat
Author(s): Black J.M., Deerenberg C. & Owen M.
Abstract: For three weeks in May the Svalbard Barnacle Geese..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 79 (2): 349-358.

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Title A note on migration ecology, population status and interactions with agriculture of Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis in Estonia.
Author(s): Leito A.
Abstract: The first all-Estonian count of Barnacle Geese
Source: ARDEA 79 (2): 347-348.

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Title Estimation of annual adult survival rates of Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis using multiple resightings of marked individuals.
Author(s): Ebbinge B.S., Van Biezen J.B. & Van der Voet H.
Abstract: Accuracy and feasibility of three different method..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 79 (1): 73-112.

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Title Site tenacity and mobility of staging Barnacle Geese
Author(s): Ganter B.
Abstract: The within season site tenacity of staging Barnacl..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 82 (2): 231-240

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Title Variation in growth of young and adult size in Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis: Evidence for density dependence
Author(s): Loonen M.J.J.E., Oosterbeek K. & Drent R.H.
Abstract: A colony of Svalbard Barnacle Geese Branta leucops..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 85 (2): 177-192

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Title Breeding range translates into staging site choice: Baltic and Arctic Barnacle geese Branta leucopsis use different habitats at a Dutch Wadden Sea Island.
Author(s): Van Der Jeugd H.P., Olthoff M.P. & Stahl J
Abstract: Habitat use of two populations of Barnacle Goose B..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 89 (2): 253-265.

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Title The importance of pre-breeding areas for the arctic Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis
Author(s): Hubner C.E.
Abstract: Before the final move to their breeding sites, man..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 94 (3): 701-713

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