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 Brent Goose- Fact File
Brent Goose
Branta bernicla
Winter visitor, common in favoured areas, and has increased in recent years.
Rarely found away from from coastal estuaries and nearby farmland. Found mostly on east and south coast of England, and coastal Ireland
Small dark goose. Two races occur, the dark bellied race (illustrated), found in England (Wash to Solent), and the light bellied race, comomer elsewhere. Breast is noticeably lighter, and back a cleaner brown, in this race.
Does not fly in the classic V-shaped formation of larger geese, but in ragged flocks (see illustration above).
56 - 62cm (22 - 24")

Brent Goose

During our latest visit to the RSPB's Titchwell reserve brent geese were the main attraction. A succession of flights of these smallest of British geese swept in low over the saltings to alight on the fresh-water flood to drink and bathe.

Later a light aircraft put all the brents to flight. The birds headed seaward excitedly calling and providing a fine spectacle against a powder blue sky. But within minutes all were returning, line upon line, wavering and undulating in a highly graceful manner. Passing low over our heads all appeared very dark with sterns in gleaming white contrast.

There has been a considerable increase in brent numbers wintering in north-west Europe. This growth has been accompanied by a marked change in feeding habits. Long gone are the times when brents seldom strayed beyond the sea-walls. During severe winters brents become very tame and close-up views of these often quarrelsome birds may be obtained at Blakeney and Wells quays.

Both when feeding and on the wing brents are highly vocal, their "cronking" calls carrying considerable distances. The return migration begins early. The majority of the wintering birds will have left this country by the end of March. But they do not move far and large concentrations soon build up in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark during April and well into May.

Flocks several hundreds strong linger nowadays along the north Norfolk coast and in the Wash until the third week in May. Stragglers may be expected between June and August.

Practically all the brents wintering in East Anglia are of the dark-bellied race breeding along the harsh and most northerly coast of mainland Siberia on the Taymyr Peninsula. They frequently nest in colonies, often in association with eiders.

Although there are 24 hours of daylight in the Arctic summer extensive snow lingers until mid-June and the geese only just have sufficient time to complete their breeding cycle during the brief summer. Freezing temperatures and snowfalls return by the end of August.

Some years near complete breeding failures occur. These failures become apparent through the absence of first-year birds in the winter gaggles. They show conspicuous white edgings in the wing-coverts and an absence of a white neck-patch. Storms may flood low-lying tundra. A late spring may also be to blame either because the start of nesting is delayed by snow cover or because Arctic foxes have been able to reach breeding islands across late ice.

By Michael J. Seago

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Copyright Information

  • Article: © Eastern Counties Newspapers Group
  • Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge © Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.
  • Other material: © Birds Of Britain