Brent Goose

Branta bernicla

56-61cm

Appearance

A plump bird with short black legs and a black bill, comparable in size to the Mallard and the Shelduck. Its stature is more upright than those species though, and its neck is longer. The tail is always white; the upper body, head and neck are dark though there is a distinctive small white neck patch. Careful inspection shows subtle differences in plumage patterns – these patterns can be used to identify the three races which visit Britain and Ireland. There's the Dark-bellied Brent from Siberia and Russia, and two races of Pale-bellied Brent from Greenland and Spitsbergen. The breast and belly of the dark-bellied bird is almost the same tone as its dark back, with some blurring, and the flanks are paler than in the pale-bellied race. The breasts and bellies of the Pale-bellied Brent are paler grey-brown, and the side of the neck holds a narrow strip of white feathers. This race has a tidy division between its dark breast and its pale belly. The difference in juveniles is the lack of white collar and the paler feather margins.

Habitat

They disperse almost exclusively on the coast, in the south and east of England, and on the Irish coast. Seacoasts and estuaries with mudflats and intertidal zones are common winter feeding grounds. Brent Geese have more recently moving to adjacent farmland, too.

Character

This is a regular swimmer who sits high in the water; it up-ends when in search of food beneath the water's surface. Its wings are quite pointed when it flies, and its rear end is visible. It prefers to fly in oscillating lines and is seen in 'V's less often than other geese. It lives in flocks containing family groups, pairs without young and individual birds.

Food

A flexible eater, this goose grazes vegetation on land or searches the water for food. Eelgrass is a traditional food and is found growing in some estuaries. The bird also eats algae and saltmarsh plants such as glasswort and sea aster.

Breeding

This goose does not breed in Britain or Ireland, and since it only has approximately 100 Arctic days to rear a family, the early onset of winter, or general bad weather, significantly affects breeding success. Families migrate together and remain united until the following breeding season.

Population

All three populations are on the increase. There are approximately 120 000 in the UK and over 21 000 in Ireland; together this represents almost half the world population. Pale-bellied Brent from Greenland winter mainly in Ireland and the Spitsbergen species can be found around Lindisfarne in Northumberland; Dark-bellied Brent visit southern Britain.

Observation Tips

They're vocal and easily seen and have become more tolerant of human observers. Close-up views can often be gained along the north Norfolk coast and on the Solent, particularly at Farlington Marshes in Hampshire.

Voice

The single 'waruk' or 'krrrut' calls mingle in flocks to create a yelping or babbling that is audible from some distance. The noise increases as flocks take to the air.
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