Barnacle Goose

Branta leucopsis (Bechstein, 1803) BY BARGO 1670
Family: Anseriformes > Anatidae

Barnacle Goose, Edmund Fellowes

The small size, yapping calls and sharply patterned greyscale plumage distinguish the Barnacle Goose from similar species.

This is a small migratory goose that arrives from the far north to winter in northern Britain. In recent decades, it has also become increasingly familiar as a naturalised resident, and might now be seen at almost any wetland and in any season.

While its seasonal abundances and absences were once the subject of legend and mystery, its migrations are now much better understood, thanks to ongoing ringing and tracking studies. Even though its wide Arctic range supports several distinct breeding populations, which appear to have largely separate migration routes and wintering areas, the lack of geographical variation and subspecies is in surprising contrast to most other goose species.


Barnacle Goose identification is usually straightforward.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Barnacle Goose, provided by xeno-canto contributors.

Flight call

Alarm call


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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



This species is mainly a winter visitor to the UK, but there is also a recently established and small naturalised breeding population which is increasing and expanding. This was estimated at 1,450 breeding pairs for the period 2012–15 (APEP4).


Birds wintering along the coast and islands of northwestern Scotland and western Ireland are largely from the Greenland-breeding population, whilst the birds on the Solway Firth and on the east coast of Britain are largely from the Svalbard population. The naturalised population, which is found mainly in Britain, has a much wider distribution, and accounts for many of the occupied 10-km squares in inland areas, particularly throughout England.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2


In Britain, a range increase of 79% is evident since the 1981–84 Winter Atlas, with many gains throughout England being associated with the increasing naturalised population. Along the western coast of Scotland, particularly in the strongholds of the Solway Firth, Islay and the Outer Hebrides, the number of occupied 10-km squares has largely remained stable, despite a population increase.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Barnacle Geese can now be seen year-round, with large wintering flocks giving way to a small but growing naturalised breeding population in summer.

Weekly occurence of Barnacle Goose from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Barnacle Goose ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Barnacle Goose, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.



View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Cathan
Welsh: Gwydd Wyran
Catalan: oca de galta blanca
Czech: berneška belolící
Danish: Bramgås
Dutch: Brandgans
Estonian: valgepõsk-lagle
Finnish: valkoposkihanhi
French: Bernache nonnette
German: Weißwangengans
Hungarian: apácalúd
Icelandic: Helsingi
Irish: Gé Ghiúrainn
Italian: Oca facciabianca
Latvian: baltvaigu zoss
Lithuanian: baltaskruoste bernikle
Norwegian: Hvitkinngås
Polish: bernikla bialolica
Portuguese: ganso-marisco
Slovak: bernikla bielolíca
Slovenian: belolicna gos
Spanish: Barnacla cariblanca
Swedish: vitkindad gås


Interpretation and scientific publications about Barnacle Goose from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

There is little good evidence available regarding the drivers of the breeding population increase in this species in the UK. However, the species is likely to benefit from factors similar to those which have enabled other goose species (Canada Goose, Greylag Goose and more recently Egpytian Goose) to expand rapidly in the UK. These may include recent improvements in the availability and condition of wetland habitats, and (in urban parks) a relative scarcity of predators compared to more natural habitats. It is unclear whether the Barnacle Goose population will grow as rapidly as the other goose species as it may face competition from the three established species.

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