Brent Goose

The Brent Goose is a visiting winter goose having spent a short summer breeding break in the artic. They leave the arctic in September to arrive here October before leaving for the artic again in March. It is our smallest goose, though very elegant in its black finery.

The Brent Goose has a small black head with a white patch on the side of the neck like a tiny necklace, a dark brown body, dark belly, black legs, and a black bill. A bit of a goose goth. The under parts are variable but under the tail is always white. The wings look pointed in flight and they fly in lines rather than the more traditional goose v-shape. Goths like to be different. Their call is a ""warunk" which is made especially when landing or taking off - to show how tricky it is. Their are two types of Brent Goose; the 'dark bellied' where heir under parts almost as dark as their upperparts and the 'pale bellied' where their underparts are a lighter grey-brown. The Brent Goose is flightless for 3 weeks during July to August while moulting.

Brent Geese are veggies, eating plants on land and in water, especially eel grass. They feed at winter feeding grounds on estuaries or the seacoast where eel grass, seaweed and sea lettuce is abundant.

The Brent Goose breeds in the artic tundra. Breeding must take place within 100 days before the snow and ice return. Nesting often starts before all the snow has melted. Bad weather or early onset of winter has a big impact on their breeding success. The 'dark bellied' breed in artic Siberia where as the 'light bellied' prefer artic Greenland. Although the artic summer is short, food for the geese is plentiful while they are there. They nest in loose colonies on flat tundra areas near ponds and lakes and on islands. The nest is a shallow depression lined with plant material and down. Egg laying usually occurs in mid-June. The three to five eggs are incubated by the mum for 24-26 days while the male stands guard as polar bears, arctic foxes, glaucous gulls and arctic skuas can all take the eggs or chicks. The nest is abandoned soon after the chicks have hatched and the young can fly six weeks later. They stay together as a family group until the spring migration the following year.

A Brent Goose can live for 19 years or more. About 100,000 overwinter here, nearly half of the world's population. Loss of eel grass marshes in the 1930s led to a decline in their numbers but restoration of marshland has helped them recover.

Their Latin name is 'branta bernicla' where 'branta' is the Latinised form of Old Norse 'brandgas' meaning 'burnt (black) goose' and 'bernicla' is the medieval Latin name for a barnacle as people in medieval times though they came from barnacles as they didn't understand where they went in the summer. An important medieval man called John Gerard even claimed to have seen the birds emerging from their shells. The legend persisted until the end of the 18th century. In County Kerry, until relatively recently, Catholics could eat a Brent Goose on a Friday because it counted as fish, so was allowed.

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