Barnacle goose

Barnacle Goose

©David Tipling/2020VISION

Barnacle goose

Scientific name: Branta leucopsis
The black-and-white barnacle goose flies here for the 'warmer' winter from Greenland and Svalbard. This epic journey was once a mystery to people, who thought it hatched from the goose barnacle at sea!

Species information


Length: 58-68cm
Wingspan: 1.3m
Weight: 1.7kg
Average lifespan: 14 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015).

When to see

October to March


The barnacle goose is one of our smallest geese, with a relatively small, rounded head and a very short bill. A common winter visitor to the north-west of the UK, in particular, it grazes on vegetation, such as roots, stems, leaves and seeds.

How to identify

A small goose, with a creamy-white face, a black neck, black-and-grey wings, and a white belly. Unlike the Canada goose, the barnacle goose has no brown on it at all.


Wild birds are only found here in the winter. They nest in Greenland and Svalbard and spend the winter in Scotland, northern England and Ireland. Small numbers of feral birds nest on gravel pits and park lakes.

Did you know?

It was once thought that barnacle geese hatched out of goose barnacles attached to ships at sea - their shells washing up on the west coast of Scotland in the autumn. This belief grew because goose barnacles have black-and-white stripes (like the geese) and the nests of barnacle geese were never seen. As a result, people even considered the barnacle goose acceptable to eat on Fridays and during Lent, despite the Church's ban on eating meat at these times, because it was not 'born of the flesh'.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts manage many wetland nature reserves for the benefit of the wildlife they support. You can help by supporting your local Trust and becoming a member; you'll find out about exciting wildlife news, events on your doorstep and volunteering opportunities, and will be helping local wildlife along the way.