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Barnacle Goose Barnacle

Updated on July 8, 2011

Back in the middle ages the origins of the Barnacle Goose were a bit of a mystery. They were common enough in Britain and yet they did not breed there. In a time when people believed in dragons and sea serpents it was easy enough to believe that birds grew on trees or emerged from the sea. Along with magic, pixies and elves the people of the day were were quite content to accept superstition as fact as well as the beliefs of people like Aristotle. He believed in 'Spontaneous Generation' which stated that life could emerge from non living matter or different sources.

This was the case with the Barnacle Goose and remained the case from as early as the 12th Century and right up to the 18th.

Giraldus Cambrensis a 12th Century cleric wrote- " They are like marsh-geese, but smaller. They are produced from fir timber tossed about at sea, and are at first like geese upon it. Afterwards they hang down by their the course of time.. they either fall into the water, or seek their liberty in the air by flight... I have seen with my own eyes more than a thousand minute bodies of these birds hanging from one piece of timber on the shore, enclosed in shells and already formed...Hence the bishops and clergy in some parts of Ireland are in the habit of partaking of these birds, on fast days, without scruple".

Obviously Giraldus had seen Goose Barnacles on a piece of floating timber. When out of water barnacles click and move and show obvious life and movement.


Geese Grow on Trees

In the Travels of Sir John Mandeville which was written in the 14th Century he stated:

"I told them of as great a marvel to them, that is amongst us, and that was of the Bernakes. For I told them that in our country were trees that bear a fruit that become birds flying, and those that fell in the water live, and they that fall on the earth die anon, and they be right good to man’s meat. And hereof had they as great marvel, that some of them trowed it were an impossible thing to be"

This wonderful tree was said to grow next to the sea

In those ancient times logical thinking had a somewhat illogical conclusion. As Barnacle Geese grew on trees then technically they were a fruit. Others believed that as I they dropped into water then they were fish. Both ways of getting around Catholic doctrine on eating meat on certain days. There were even those who believed that Geese coming from trees was evidence for the immaculate conception. In 1215 Pope Innocent the 3rd dispelled the myth and declared that they were most definitely birds.

Even today there are peasants in parts or rural South America who look on the Capybara as a fish because it spends so much time in water.

Goose Barnacles on a floating timber

Goose Barnacles on Floating Timber
Goose Barnacles on Floating Timber | Source

The Goose Barnacle lives in the main along rocky shorelines where it attaches itself to the rocks. Usually in awkward places. In their free swimming stage however they will attach themselves to a variety of floating objects. These could include bottles or waterlogged timbers.


Goose Barnacles on a floating bottle

Goose Barnacles attached to a floating bottle
Goose Barnacles attached to a floating bottle | Source

In Reality

The Barnacle Goose is most definitely a bird. A medium sized goose which breed in the main on steep cliff faces in Greenland and some other north Atlantic islands. Their choice of nesting site offers some protection against predators but does mean that many chicks die from injuries when they leave the nest shortly after hatching. They cannot fly and so must make a leap into the unknown to start feeding. Their thick down offers some protection in the fall but sometimes it is not enough.

Barnacle Geese Chicks Jump into the World

Other breeding populations of Barnacle Geese have now become established elsewhere. The scientific name of the Barnacle Goose is Branta 'leucopsis' which means white faced.

Outside of the breeding season the Barnacle Goose travels South into Europe and parts of the US.

Barnacle Goose
Barnacle Goose | Source

In Poetry

`And there I'll grow respected at my ease,
And hear among the garden's nightly peace,'
Beggar to beggar cried, being frenzy-struck,
`The wind-blown clamour of the barnacle geese.'

from: Beggar to Beggar Cried by W.B. Yeats

In Conservation

Climate change, Global warming, whatever you like to call it. Life is definitely getting harder for the poor Polar Bear. By consequence the Barnacle Goose is suffering too.

Here is a piece from a report in Wildlife and Flora published in August 2010

This summer, over eight weeks monitoring, one barnacle goose colony on Diabasøya Island on the Nordenskiöldkysten, scientists from the University of Groningen and WWT observed ten different polar bears. The first bear ate more than 1,000 eggs and the subsequent visits were equally devastating. Of more than 500 nests on the island, fewer than 40 were successful and most of them had very small clutch sizes of only one or two goslings.

Cooking Your Goose

I am very fond of Goose. It is a Chistmas favourite of mine and I would much prefer it over Turkey. I have also eaten a fair few Barnacle Geese but not for thirty years or more. In Medieval times the Barnacle Goose was a favourite Christmas Eve dish....because it was wrongly or deliberately thought not to be meat.

In the prepation of the goose you should thoroughly rub salt into the body cavity. Stuff both the body and neck cavity with your choice of stuffing. Use a skewer to close the openings close and then truss the bird. Place your goose in a roasting dish, ideally raised on a wire rack and roast in an oven pre-heated to 230°C for 20 minutes. Then drop the heat down to 180C and turn the goose onto its side and roast for another hour. Again turn the goose onto the other side for a further hour and drain off the excess fat from the roasting tin. Lastly turn the goose onto its back and roast for a further 30 minutes. Baste every 30 minutes during cooking. As a guide a goose should be cooked for 45 minutes per kg.

Serve with roast potatoes and all the trimmings. The best roast potatoes ever are those cooked in Goose fat.


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  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

    dallas93444 - Pleased to have furthered your knowledge in a small way. Thank you for commenting.

  • dallas93444 profile image

    Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

    I learned stuff from this article. Flag up!