The Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) belongs to the genus of black geese named Branta. This genus contains species with mostly black plumage, distinguishing them from the grey Anser species. Despite its superficial outward similarity to the Brent Goose, genetic analysis has shown it is an eastern derivative of the Cackling Goose lineage. It is easily identified by its largely black plumage and white face. Its call is a “kaw”.
During breeding season, Barnacle Geese can be found mainly on the Arctic islands of the North Atlantic. There are three main populations, with separate breeding and wintering ranges; from west to east:
- Breeding in eastern Greenland, wintering on the Hebrides of western Scotland and in western Ireland. Population about 40,000.
- Breeding on Svalbard, wintering on the Solway Firth on the England/Scotland border. Population about 24,000.
- Breeding on Novaya Zemlya, wintering in the Netherlands. Population about 130,000.
- A new fourth population, derived from the Novaya Zemlya population, has become established since 1975 breeding on the Baltic Sea islands (Estonia, Finland, and Sweden), and wintering in the Netherlands. Population about 8,000.
Barnacle Geese build their nests high on mountain cliffs; away from their primary predators, Arctic Foxes and Polar Bears. This also puts them away from their food source. Because of this, newly hatched goslings are brought to the ground roughly 3 days after hatching. Unable to fly, the goslings are coaxed to jump off the cliff and fall to the ground (their small size and very light weight protects them from serious injury). They are then led by the parents to nearby wetland feeding areas.
Small numbers of feral birds, derived from escapes from zoo collections, also breed in several other north European countries.