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HomeSpits­ber­gen infor­ma­ti­onWild­life → Bar­na­cle goo­se

Barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis)

Bar­na­cle geese are pro­bab­ly the best rese­ar­ched geese in the world! At the end of the 1940s the­re were only a few hund­red Bar­na­cle geese on Spits­ber­gen. Howe­ver, the stock has sin­ce reco­ve­r­ed well.

Barnacle goose

Bar­na­cle goo­se.

Descrip­ti­on: Bar­na­cle geese are medi­um-sized geese (58- 70 cm long, 1.5-2 kg in weight) with con­tras­ty plu­mage: black neck and par­ti­al­ly white head. They are easi­ly dis­tin­guis­hed from the other two com­mon­ly bree­ding geese in Spits­ber­gen, Pink-foo­ted geese and the more rare­ly seen Brant goo­se.

Occa­sio­nal­ly, leu­cistic Bar­na­cle geese are seen, which are lar­ge­ly white due to a pig­men­ta­ry abnor­ma­li­ty. The­se geese are, howe­ver, not albi­nos.

Leucistic Barnacle goose

Leu­cistic Bar­na­cle goo­se near Lon­gyear­ben, July 2017.

Dis­tri­bu­ti­on / Migra­ti­ons: Bar­na­cle geese breed in three dif­fe­rent are­as: Nor­the­ast Green­land, Sval­bard and nor­thwes­tern Rus­sia down to the Bal­tic sea. Birds from Sval­bard spend the win­ter in nort­hern Eng­land and sou­thern Scot­land, using Bear Island (Bjørnøya) as a res­ting place on the way down south and the west coast of Nor­way during the spring migra­ti­on. Bar­na­cle geese from Green­land win­ter in Ice­land and wes­tern Scot­land, and tho­se from Rus­sia on the Ger­man and Dut­ch North Sea coast. They spend a cou­p­le of days after the spring migra­ti­on main­ly around Vår­sol­buk­ta in Bellsund and the Horn­sund area, befo­re they move on to their bree­ding are­as.

Barnacle geese after the spring migration

Bar­na­cle geese in Advent­da­len in late May, after the spring migra­ti­on.

The most important bree­ding are­as in Sval­bard are the west coast of Spits­ber­gen and Tus­enøya­ne.

Bio­lo­gy: Rock ter­races on top of cliffs and small islands in lakes or near the coast are their pre­fer­red bree­ding habi­tat, whe­re they are lar­ge­ly undis­tur­bed by foxes. They lay four or five eggs on which the fema­le will sit for 24-25 days. The male will stay around and defend the nest against foxes or other pre­d­a­tors. As soon as the chicks have hat­ched, the goo­se fami­ly will lea­ve the nest and spend the fol­lowing weeks on rich tun­dra near a lake or the coast, so that they can retre­at to the water in case of any dan­ger.

Barnacle geese, flying off after being disturbed by an arctic fox

Bar­na­cle geese, fly­ing off after being dis­tur­bed by an arc­tic fox.

This time is also the moul­ting peri­od of the adult birds, so the who­le fami­ly is unab­le to fly for some weeks until the young geese are rea­dy for take-off at an age of 40-45 days. After moul­ting, Bar­na­cle geese will gather in lar­ge num­bers in are­as with rich vege­ta­ti­on, whe­re they will build up ener­gy for the long flight to the win­te­ring grounds. The fami­ly will stay tog­e­ther until the next spring. Bar­na­cle geese are vege­ta­ri­ans and feed on plants and mos­ses.

Barnacle geese in Ny-Ålesund

Bar­na­cle geese in Ny-Åle­sund.

Mis­cel­la­ne­ous: Bar­na­cle geese that walk through the sett­le­ment of Ny Åle­sund without hesi­ta­ti­on, are much less ner­vous about human pre­sence than Pink-foo­ted geese which have been hun­ted for a long time in Spits­ber­gen. Bar­na­cle geese were dri­ven near to extinc­tion in Sval­bard, but have reco­ve­r­ed well, and limi­ted hun­ting may be re-ope­ned in the future. The over­all popu­la­ti­on is sta­ble or even gro­wing slow­ly, with an esti­ma­ted 25,000-30,000 birds in the year 2000. The strong con­cen­tra­ti­on of lar­ge num­bers during cer­tain times of their migra­ti­on makes Bar­na­cle geese vul­nerable to dis­tur­ban­ces.

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last modification: 2019-03-31 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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