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Barnacle Goose

An occasional winter visitor to Dorset recognisable by its white face 

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

The barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis) is much rarer in Dorset than its cousins, Canada and Brent Geese. Indeed, many records are probably feral birds that have escaped from collections. However, extreme colder weather in the north of Britain can drive birds further south and very occasionally as far as Dorset.

This was the case back in the cold winter of 2011 which seems to have driven a small family party of six birds south to Dorset. The group was in the company of Canada geese and Brent geese but preferred to keep their distance and as five of them grazed peacefully this one stood guard and saw off any of the other two species that dared wander their way!

An Arctic breeding species, barnacle geese usually spend the winter on the Solway Firth in southern Scotland, on some of the outer Hebridean Islands and on the east coast of Ireland. Early Irish people could not work out how these birds could disappear in the summer and reappear in the autumn and they formed an association with sea barnacles and thought that the geese hatched out from the barnacles that grew on the rocks, hence the name barnacle goose!


The key identification feature of the barnacle goose is its white face. It is a little smaller than a Canada goose but larger than a Brent. 


Barnacle Goose: an Irish folk tale

Common Name Barnacle Goose
Scientific Name Branta leucopsis
Species Group Birds Geese
Status Rare
Interest Level
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
Look for

A goose similar to a Canada goose but with a white face rather than a white chin strap

Identification Notes
  • Looks much like many other geese from a distance
  • The white face is diagnostic, there is no similar species with this feature
  • Smaller than a Canada goose but bigger than a Brent goose 
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Geese