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Black Geese. Anseriformes-part five

Updated on September 11, 2015

Brent Goose in a defensive position



In the concluding part of the order Anseriformes we review the Black geese of the family Anatidae. The Grey {and white} geese were reviewed in part 4 of this series {}. in which the general characters of geese is referred to.

The so called Black geese are placed in the genus Branta. They occur in the northern hemisphere including all over North America. {there is a viable population of feral geese,bred from the Canada Goose, in the southern hemisphere where they occur in New Zealand.}

In North America the black geese often inhabit the parts where grey geese are absent from. However, in Eurasia the species often overlap,ut the Black geese tend to be more coastal,with the exception of the Canada goose which is often found inland on fresh water bodies. We commence our review with the Brant goose.

Brent or brant goose

Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland Richard Crossley
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland Richard Crossley | Source

Brant geese wintering at Jade Bay

Jade Bay, Wadden Sea, Germany
Jade Bay, Wadden Sea, Germany | Source

The Brant Goose . Branta bernicla.

The Brant goose,just as commonly referred to as the bent goose is a small goose with a short stubby bill.They are between 56-61 cm { twenty two to twenty four inches}long and weigh between 1.3 and 1.6 Kg. { two and three quarters to three and a half pounds}.

The head is black as is the chest and neck. There is a white patch high on the neck {which is absent in the juvenile.} the underside and belly are brown with black markings. The stern or under tail and vent is a bold white colour.

In the UK the species is placed on the Amber list of conservation concern due to European concerns and important non-breeding wintering populations .There is an estimated 95,000 individuals during the winter months. There are also two sub-species recorded in the UK, Branta bernicla hrota {the pale bellied Brant goose} which is rare and localized and encountered in Ireland and the north east of England,and a rare vagrant from North America Branta bernicla nigricans { this species has a white collar,blackish belly and white flanks.

In Europe they are classed as being of 3 concern {most not in Europe,vulnerable}

In the UK during the winter this goose of thelow-lying,often muddy coasts is relatively common. They have become more freqently tame in many arteas,coming into estuaries and harbours,and also feeding on roadside fields at high tide. Flocks are often observed in the water upending like ducks in order to feed. At low tide they tend to scatter over the estuary mud or in the remaining narrow channels where they occur between October to March. Although they are only a little longer than the mallard they look deceivingly larger.

They breed in the Arctic tundra,Greenland,Spitzbergen, North Russia and North America. They winter south to North Africa,China and the USA along with parts of Europe.

Egg of the Brant goose

Museum Wiesbaden Germany
Museum Wiesbaden Germany | Source

Nest and eggs

The nest of this species is bowl shaped,lined with grass and down. It is usually located in an elevated position often in small ponds.The female will deposit 3-5 eggs which she will incubate for a period of 24-26 days. The resulting goslings' will leave the nest almost immediately and join their parents on the water.

Brant geese eat eelgrass and algae on mud flats but they increasingly take cereal grains and grass on fields .They graze on land or feed in shallow water.

Barnacle goose Head shot.


Barnacle goose

Taken,Helsinki ,Finland.
Taken,Helsinki ,Finland. | Source

Barnacle goose

The Barnacle goose .Branta leucopsis, is a bird of between 23-28 inches long and weighing between three and a quarter and four and a half pounds. It has a white face with a black eye patch and small stubby .black bill. The breast,neck,and upper part is also black. The belly is white .The wings and back are a silver grey with black and white barrings.During flight a V-shaped white rump is evident.

In the UK they are placed on the Amber list of conservation concern due to localized non-breeding populations,with an estimated 94,000 birds in winter.They breed in Greenland and Svalbard,with populations remaining separate all year. Those breeding in eastern Greenland winter in the Hebrides of western Scotland,and in western Ireland. While those that breed in Svalbard winter in the Solway Firth {English Scottish border}.

Barnacle geese tend to build their nests on cliff ledges away from predators such as the Arctic fox. The female will lay 4-5 eggs,which she incubates for 24-25 days. The young goslings then have the precarious task of jumping off the cliff ledges into the water. Some never make it and these are eagerly taken by the Artic fox and other predators.

Branta leucopsis gosling.


Canada geese

Canada geese do not shun human habitats
Canada geese do not shun human habitats | Source

Canada goose.Branta canadensis.

This is perhaps the most familiar of all the geese to many people in the UK. Originally imported from North America as an ornamental species in the 17th century it is now firmly established in the British fauna,with an estimated 62,000 pairs in summer. In Europe they are not a bird of concern. Most in the UK.have lost their migratory instinct and remain resident throughout the year.

They are 35-43 inches long and weigh nine and a half to eleven pounds. The head is black with a white chin strap.The neck is black as is the bill. The breast pale,the legs black. The tail and wing tips held high while swimming. They have a white rump evident in flight. In its native North America it breeds in Canada and the northern United States,and may be encountered in numerous parts throughout the winter as it migrates from the more northerly parts. The Canada goose mates for life and in the breeding season the female will lay 5-6 eggs in general. these are incubated by the female with the male in close attendance. the incubation period will last for 28-30 days and the goslings take to the water immediately.

Black Brant goose

Taken in Iceland.
Taken in Iceland. | Source

Black brant Branta bernicla nigricans.

This species is sometimes referred to as the Pacific Brant Goose. It is a sub-species of the previous species. They breed in Alaska and winters in Baja California. The population numbers vary due to predation and other factors. According to estimates there was a high of 200,000 in the early 1980's,but was as low as 100,000 by 1987.

The Cackling goose. Branta hutchinsii

The Cackling goose, Branta hutchinsii, is another goose native to North America. originally the Cackling goose was considered to be the same species or at least a sub-species of the Canada goose {above} However,in July 2004 the American Ornithologist Union's split the two into two species making the Cackling goose a full species,Branta hutchinsii. Britain followed suit in July 2005.

The smallest Cackling goose Branta hutchinsii minima,is much smaller than the Canada goose but the species Branta hutchinsii, at up to six point six pounds grows to nearly the same size as the Canada goose. Some are very hard to distinguish from the Canada goose they can be very similar with a black head and white chin strap. Branta hutchinsii, breeds in Canada and Alaska in a variety of Tundra habitat. its wintering range includes most of the United States,locally in western Canada and northern Mexico. The species is also found throughout Japan and eastern China.

They feed mainly on plant material.When feeding in the water they reach down with their relatively long necks to reach the plants beneath the surface,sometimes upending in the manner of some ducks. They eat on land on cultivated grain that has been left over after the harvest. they will also take insects,snails and even crustaceans.

Aleutian Cackling goose.


The Aluetian Cackling Goose

The Aleutian Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii leaucoparela, was formerly referred to as the Aleutian Canada Goose. { The Bering Cackling goose is the name given to the Cackling geese of Komandorski and Kuril Islands.}.

The Aleutian goose has the typical black head and white chin strap and cheek patches.It is distinguished by a white neck ring at the base of the neck. They are very similar to Branta hutchinsii minima,which is smaller and with a darker breast colour.

The Aleutian Cackling goose is taken by the Arctic fox which was introduced to the Aleutian Islands by Russian fur traders in the mid 1800's and early 1900's. These geese generally arrive in California and make their way to their wintering grounds in the central Valley by mid October.

Red Breasted Goose


Red Breasted Goose. Branta ruficollis.

The colourful plumage of the Red breasted goose make it unmistakeable,which sometimes leads it to be placed in Rufibrenta., but for all intents and purposes ,despite its colouring ,it is close enough to the Brant goose to make this unnecessary.

It is the smallest of the Brant genus being just 21-22 inches long. it is a sad fact that this species is classed as endangered. Over 80% of the population winter at just five sites. It has suffered by changes in land use near to their breeding and feeding sites. During the winter this goose feeds on grasses,leaves and seeds.

Despite its colourful plumage it can sometimes be hard to spot among a flock of Brent geese. the head of this goose is black with a white patch between the eyes and bill. The sides of the head are chestnut red margined by white which runs down towards the back and encircles the red breast from which the goose takes its common name/. {at a distance the red of the breast can appear to be black.}. The back is black,and there is a prominent white,broad,stripe on the flanks. The under-tail coverts are also white.

The bird breeds in Siberia mainly on the Taymyr Peninsula with smaller populations on the Gydan and Yamal Peninsulas. Most tend to winter along the north western shores of the Black sea in Bulgaria and Ukraine,with a small number wintering in Azerbaijan.

It is a popular bird in Wildfowl l,and some may escape,thus they may be encountered in the most unlikely of places.

The Egyptian Goose.

Taken on the Shore of Lake Zurich,Switzerland.
Taken on the Shore of Lake Zurich,Switzerland. | Source

Egyptian goose.

Before we conclude with the subject of geese i will review the Egyptian goose Aloppochen aegyptiaca. This is a native to Africa south of the Sahara and the Nile valley. A bird that was considered to be sacred to the Ancient Egyptians.

Because of their popularity among Wildfowl collectors,many escaped and there are several small feral populations that have become established in western Europe.It is thought to be Closely related to the Shelduck of the genus Tadorna,and is the only living member of the genus Alopochen.

It is a good swimmer but in flight it is more like a goose than a duck. It is however, a largely terrestrial species that readily perches on trees and buildings. The birds breed in their natural state in Africa,especially in the Nile Valley. In the UK,it is encountered for the most part in East Anglia,especially in Parkland with lakes,However, it was officially declared a pest species in 2009. It nests in a variety of situations,often in the holes in mature trees in Parkland.

Egyptian goose juvenile.



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Deb,

      The chance to photograph the Ross's goose with the escorts must have been a great experience for you. Thank you as always for your appreciated visit. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I enjoyed this, of course, as my geese will always be my favorites. As a rehabber in Delaware, I managed to meet the Brandt. I also know plenty of Canadas, will get the Cackling upon occasion, and even more rarely the Snow Goose and the Ross's Goose. I was fortunate enough to be in the area during off-season when a Ross's came in with a couple of Canada Goose escorts. I was able to photograph the entire event.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Thank you .Best wishes to you.

    • zahran94 profile image

      zahran gamal 

      3 years ago from sports



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