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Dark-bellied brent goose

Branta bernicla

All about dark-bellied brent geese

Brent geese are our smallest goose, only a little bigger than a mallard duck, and they fly 3,000 miles to get to the Solent all the way from arctic Siberia.

Brent geese are very social birds that gather in large flocks: they form strong bonds, and tend to migrate in family groups, sticking together year on year.

Their backs are grey-brown, and they have a black neck,  head and bill, with just a small white lacy patch on their neck.

Brent geese eat seagrass, which grows in the sea. You’ll sometimes 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 tend to fly in V-formations: instead you’ll see streams of them ribboning across the sky.

Brent geese develop their lacy neck band as they mature. In a family group you might notice the youngsters’ neck markings haven’t started to show.

A family of brent geese with the younger goose not yet showing its lacy neck markings

They often get mistaken for Canada geese as this species is 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: about 56-61cm compared with Canada geese which are around a metre long. The Canada goose’s white neck marking is much more of a bold chinstrap, compared with the delicate lacy band of the brent.

A comparison between the smaller brent goose and the larger Canada goose

A brent goose and a much larger Canada goose with a bolder chin strap

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 oilfields after birds: in this case, the brent goose.

Local spotlight

Dark-bellied brent geese 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.

Conservation status

Brent geese are amber listed in the UK. 

They are a qualifying feature for the Special Protection Areas in Solent and Southampton Water, Portsmouth Harbour and Chichester and Langstone Harbours  – that means, when the sites were designated, a nationally significant number of them used these coastlines in the winter.

Did you know?

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!