You are here

Brent Goose

A common visitor to Dorset harbours in winter

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

The harbours of Dorset are important wintering havens for Brent geese (Branta bernicla) and their arrival in autumn is a sure sign that winter is approaching. Having nested in Greenland and Iceland these geese make the long journey south every autumn and return to their nesting grounds the following spring. There are actually three different races of Brent goose that you can encounter in Dorset, the more common dark-bellied, the much scarcer pale-bellied and the rare black brant. The dark-bellied race nest in Siberia and northern Russia and come to the east and south of England to over winter whereas the pale-bellied race are from Greenland and Spitsbergen and mainly spend their winters in Ireland but a small number end up here in Dorset each winter, mainly to the west along the Fleet. The black brant arrives from the Canadian Arctic. Because most tweeted reports do not differentiate between the races I make no attempt to separate them in my database of records apart from black brant.

The Brent goose is related to the more common and introduced Canada goose but it is much smaller; In fact, the Brent is hardly bigger than a shelduck. Not only is it smaller than the Canada but the distinctive white 'chin strap' is much less pronounced so you should have no trouble telling them apart even from a distance. They are quite happy in the company of Canada geese however and mixed flocks are not unusual. They are very keen on eel grass that is exposed at low tide but in between tides they are happy browsing on rough pasture. If you visit the Middlebere Farm hide at high tide in any winter month you can often see 1,000 or so Brent geese in the field right alongside the hide. They make a wonderful sight when the take off together.

A small number of early arrivals start returning about week 34 in late August but the main return seems to kick off a couple of weeks later in week 36 in September and they are then regularly reported throughout the winter until the following spring when they have mostly all gone by week 17 at the end of April. A very small number of reports come in during the summer months but these are the exception and are probably of the odd bird not fit enough to travel the extreme distance to the breeding grounds.

As with many of our wintering waterfowl species the distribution map shows clusters of reports from Christchurch harbour, Poole harbour and the Fleet with odd passage sightings from other coastal locations. Whilst Ferrybridge has by far the most reports the largest population is certainly in and around Poole harbour where they are seen at nearly all of the disperate sites around the harbour. They are less common in Christchurch harbour and at sites further up the Fleet.

For the best chance of seeing Brent geese I would suggest the Middlebere channel viewed from the Coombe viewpoint at Arne but at the right state of the tide obviously Ferrybridge is likely to reward you.


Brent Goose: cometh the autumn cometh the geese

Common Name Brent Goose
Scientific Name Branta bernicla
Species Group Birds Geese
Status Locally frequent
Interest Level
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
Look for

Smallish compact geese in often in flocks, sometimes quite large gatherings can be seen

Identification Notes
  • A wintering species that arrive in large numbers along the south coast in late autumn
  • Smaller than the Canada  goose and with a white mark on the neck rather than a white chin strap
  • There are various races from different parts of the Arctic, dark-bellied, pale-bellied and the black brant 
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