Dark-bellied brent goose
Brent geese are our smallest goose, only a little bigger than a mallard, and they fly 3,000 miles to get to the Solent all the way from arctic Siberia.
They are very social birds that gather in large flocks of hundreds of birds. They form strong bonds, and tend to migrate in family groups, sticking together year on year.
Brent geese eat seagrass, which grows in the sea. You’ll see them ‘bottoms-up’ in the water feeding on this tasty plant just like a duck. When the seagrass runs out they move onto fields to eat the grass.
As they fly overhead, you can hear them chattering away to each other, making their glorious guttural crrrronk call. Unlike other geese, they don’t fly in V-formations: instead you’ll see streams of them ribboning across the sky.
They often get mistaken for Canadian geese as they’re are also black and white with a white band on their neck. The best way to tell them apart is by their size since brent geese are much smaller: 56-61cm compared with Canada geese which are around a metre long. The Canadian’s white neck marking is much more of a bold chinstrap, compared with the delicate lacy band of the brent.
The word ‘brent’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘burnt’, and the name ‘brent goose’ refers to the smoky hue of the bird’s plumage And there is a link between brent geese and Brent oil. The name of the oilfield comes from Shell’s policy of naming all its fields after birds: in this case, the brent goose.
They start to arrive along the Solent in October and by January there are around 25,000 of these amazing geese – that’s an astonishing 10% of the global population.
Brent geese are amber listed in the UK.
They are a qualifying feature for the Solent and Southampton Water, Portsmouth Harbour and Chichester and Langstone Harbours Special Protection Areas – that means, when the sites were designated, a nationally significant number of them used these coastlines in the winter.
One dark-bellied goose fitted with a GPS tag in Essex was recorded as spending 2 months in Northern Germany after leaving the UK in March, before covering 1134 miles in just 60 hours to reach Russia in late May. What an extraordinary journey!