Brent Goose breeding birds in the arctic circle

The Brent Goose (Branta bernicla) is the smallest one with the darkest plumage of all marine geese. Its breeding grounds are circumpolar in the arctic circle. We find them in Canada, Greenland, Franz-Joseph-Land, Svalbard and in the Siberian tundra. The species’ largest breeding ground is on the north Siberian Tamyr peninsula.

During winter the Brent Goose is a migrant and frequent winter guest in the entire Waddensea area, on the German coastline and islands. Up to 50,000 Brent Geese stop there every year during winter. Another wintering ground is the Rhine orbituary in the Netherlands.

The European population of the Brent Goose is relativly small but stable with 1,000-2,300 breeding pairs only. European populations are on Iceland, Svalbard and Franz-Joseph-Land Islands. In contrast to that, the number of migrating Brent Geese wintering in northwest Europe is continuously rising.

Breedding populations in the northeast of Siberia, Alaska and north Canada are also deemed as stable. A population of 300,000 individuals is estimated for North America.

brent goose branta bermincla marine goose
Marine Geese: Brent Goose (Branta bernicla) early in the morning

Characteristics of the Brent Goose


Order: Anseriformes
Family: Ducks (Anatidae)
Sub-Family: True Geese (Anserini)
Genus: Marine Geese (Branta)
Species: Brent Goose

Scientific Name: Branta bernicla

Subspecies of the Brent Goose

There are fiour subspecies of the Brent Goose listed below whith their main distribution areas:

Dark-bellied Brent Goose (Branta bernicla bernicla) – Artic coasts of Central Siberia, wintering in Europe

Pale-bellied Brent Goose (Branta b. hrota) – East Canadian Arctic and eastwards to Svalbard, both wintering on North Atlantic coasts

Black Brant (Branta b. orientalis) – the Arctic coasts of Western North America and in East Siberia, both wintering on northern Pacific coasts.

Grey-bellied Brent Goose (Branta b. nigricans) – Queen Elizabeth Islands, wintering in Puget Sound (US State of Washingtion bordering to British Columbia, CA).

brent goose
Brent Goose

Names and Synonymes of the Brent Goose

German: Weisswangengans or Nonnengans
French: Bernache Cravant
Spanish: Barnacla Cariblanca
Portuguese: Ganso-marisco
Italian: Oca facciabianca
Dutch: Rotgans
Norwegian: Hvitkinngås
Swedish: Vitkindad gås
Finland: Valkoposkihanhi
Danish: Bramgås
Czech: Berneška bělolící
Polish: Bernikla białolica
Russian: Белощёкая казарка
Greenland: Nerlernarnaq
Iceland: Helsingi
Faroe Island: Bramgás, Brandgás
Inuit: Nerlernarnaq
North Sami: Gierdocuonji, Vilgesnierčuonjá

brent goose
Brent Goose


Distribution. The Brent Goose enjoys a circumpolar distribution and its distribution area covers North Amerika with the east of Canada, Greenland, Franz-Joseph-Land Islands, Svalbard, and the Siberian tundra. Its main breeding grounds in Siberia centre on the Taymir peninsula in north Siberia. In northwest and central Europe Brent Geese are migrants and wintering guests.

Movements and Wintering

Movements and Wintering: Brent Geese are strictly migratory and long-distance migrants. As for European wintering grounds, Migration starts in the siberian tundra as early as mid-August lasting until early-September. These birds first arrive on the Baltics and from there go to Denmark where they arrive by end-September.

The masses of Brent Geese arrives there in October. From Denmark migrationn continues to the Waddensea where most Brent Geese winter. Each winter there are about 22,000 Brent Geese along the German Waddensea coast in the state of Lower Saxony. In the entire Waddensea area including the German islands and halligs there are about 50,000 Brent Geese wintering between late autumn and spring. 80-90 % of the world population winter on the British south and east coast, in the Dutch Rhine estuary and on the French west coast every year.

Brent Geese return to their breeding grounds between March and mid-April.

The breeding populations from the Canadian arctic islands use a fly-way leading them via Iceland to Ireland and to the British west coast, to their main wintering grounds. Arrival is usually from mid-October and return starts in April.

Most of the Canadian mainland populations spent winter on the US east coast.

The populations from Svalbard and Franz-Joseph-Land migrate from September on a southern fly-way, thereby following the Norwegian west coast in order to arrive in Denmark by end-September/early-October. Only part of this group moves from Denmark to the northern English County of Northumberland. Return from the UK to their breeding grounds mainly starts in April. Brent Goose move first to gathering places in Denmark from where they start their way home to the breeding grounds. Arrival on Svalbard mainly is between end-May/early-June.

brent goose
Brent Geese


Brent Geese settle in coastal tundra and on freshwater lakes. Closeness to water is always essential. Moulting places are also used on coastal grounds. During migration and winter we find Breent Goose on flat coastal grounds whereas their resting places are out on the ocean or in sheltered bays. Though, during winter large flocks also move to offshore lakes and large bodies of water.


Brent Geese are mainly diurnal, though they are known to feed also during moonlight. Feeding mostly happens on drdy land. During winter large flocks of the Brent Goose also feed in shallow coastal waters.

small flock of brent goose
Small flock of Brent Goose

Field Characteristics of the Brent Goose

In General smaller than Barnacle Goose; though slimmer-bodied with longer neck. Small head and narrow wings. Very shy. Looks darkish with bright white stern. Obvious with adult individuals is the smal white crescent on the side of the upper neck, which is absent with juveniles. Migrant flocks are mainly very large. It is extremely difficult to get closer to flocks because these geese are very wary.

Bill: short and black
Iris: dark brown
Legs: black

Measurement and Mass

Size: 55-66 cm
Weight: 1,300-1,500 g
Wingspan: 110-120 cm
♂ = 33.0-35.3 cm
♀ = 31.7-33.5 cm


Brent Goose utter the loudest calls of all Branta geese, sounding like a rising clank. with a slightly nasal tone. Flocks can be heards over large distances. Also, flying flocks are most noisy, especially after abrupt distrubances that urged large flocks to take off into flight almost immediately.

brent goose
Brent Gose


Sexually mature: as early as during the second year, but mainly in the thried year.

Mating: as early as from the 12th month of the first year.

Breeding Pair: a monogamous lifelong breeding pair is assumed.

Begin of Breeding: The start of breeding is correlated with the snowmelt. As soon as there are snow-free patches on the ground, the first pairs start breeding. Main breeding season from early / mid -June to end-July but no later than early August.

Clutches per breeding season: 1 clutch per year

Nest: The nest of the Brent Goose is a scratched mould, lined with lichens, moss and grass. Later, during incubation nest is also lined with downs.

Eggs, Clutch and Laying

Clutch: (1-) usually 3-5 (rarely up to 8) eggs

Eggs: elliptical or spindled shape, creme coloured shell, can also be more yellowish
Recurrent Clutch: no recorded data so far. Though, most unlikely because of the very short breeding season.

Laying Interval: within 25 hours.

egg of brent goose
Egg of the Brent Goose – source: By Klaus Rassinger und Gerhard Cammerer, Museum Wiesbaden – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Breeding, Fledging and Dependency

Beging of Incubating: no recorded datra. Presumably after laying the last egg.

Incubation: minimum of 21 days, on average 24-26 days with a maximum of 28 days. The ♀ is tasked with the job of incubating, while the ♂ guards the nest and provides food for the ♀.

Fledging: chicken leave the nest shortly after hatching and follow their parents. Juveniles fledge after 40-50 days.

Dependency: Juveniles follow their parents to the wintering grounds in autumn. They continue to stay with their parients until the start of the next breeding season.

brent goose
The sky is full with Brent Geese after a disturbance by two high flying fighter jets.


Food: During migration and winter Brent Geese feed on stoneworts or charophytes and other aquatic plants. In other words, they feed on plants. Also, they feed on grass and winter seeds.

Longevity: Brent Geese can reach an age of 15 years. The maximum ages recorded are over 20 and 27 years in the wild.

Mortality: about 17 % per annum.

Threats: Disturbances on resting and feeding grounds, loss of habitat. In their breeding grounds Brent Geese are threatetened by bords of prey, foxes and gulls. Another great threat are eagles.

brent goose
Brent Geese up in the air


Bauer, Hans-Günther, Bezzel, Einhard et. al. (HG), Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 1, Sonderausgabe 2012, Aula Verlag, Wiebelsheim

Bauer, Hans-Günther, Bezzel, Einhard et. al. (HG), Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 3, Literatur und Anhang, Aula Verlag Wiebelsheim, 2. vollständig überarbeitete Auflage 1993

Bezzel, Einhard, Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Non-Passeriformes, Band 1, Aula Verlag Wiesbaden, 1985

Bruun/Singer/König, Der Kosmos Vogelführer, Franck’sche Verlagshandlung Stuttgart, 5. Auflage 1982

Glutz von Blotzheim, Urs et. al (HG), Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 2, Anseriformes (1. Teil), Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, Wiesbaden, 1979, Nachdruck der Auflage von 1968

Svenson, Lars et. al, Der Kosmos Vogelführer, Franck-Kosmos Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Stuttgart, 2. Auflage 2011

Uspenski, S.M. Dr. habil, Die Wildgänse Nordeurasiens, Die Neue Brehm Bücherei, Band 352, A. Ziemsen Verlag Wittenberg Lutherstadt, 1965

Bundesamt für Naturschutz: Nationaler Vogelschutzbericht 2019 gemäß Artikel 12 Vogelschutzrichtlinie, Berichtsdaten aus dem Abschnitt O…Roh Wintergäste-wintering guests (pdf download)

brent goose
Brent Geese swimmin in coastal shallow water; with some Greylag Geese trying to land.

Image Credits

Egg of the Brent Goose – source: By Klaus Rassinger und Gerhard Cammerer, Museum Wiesbaden – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Featured Image of the Brent Goose: by ©Raymond Loyal
All Post Images of the Brent Goose: by ©Raymond Loyal

brent goose
Brent Goose

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Published by Raymond Loyal Photography

Bird, Nature, Art and Architecture Photographer, Traveller, Blogger.

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