Barnacle Goose breeding in the High Arctic

The Barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis) frequently build their nests high on mountain cliffs, away from predators primarily Arctic Foxes and sometimes Polar Bears, but also away from food. Like all geese, the goslings are not fed by the adults. Instead of bringing food to the newly hatched goslings, the goslings are brought to the ground. Unable to fly, the three day old goslings jump off the cliff and fall; their small size, feathery down, and very light weight helps to protect some of them from serious injury when they hit the rocks below, but many get injured from the impact. Arctic foxes are attracted by the noise made by the parent geese during this time, and they capture many dead or injured goslings. The foxes also stalk the young as they are led by the parents to wetland feeding areas.

Once hatched, the family moves to areas of ‘abundant’ vegetation, grazing on dwarf willow on the coastal meadows, often in larges flocks.  In July/August the adult geese moult for around 21 days, so they always stay close to water to which they run in their flightless condition – if disturbed.

When in the high arctic the Barnacle goose eats for 1.5 hours by which time it stomach is full, then it sleeps for half an hour, during which time its droppings can be counted every 5 minutes, and then it starts all over again 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, taking full advantage of the 24 hours light in the high arctic for the 4 summer months.  They only utilize around 30% of the nutritional contents of their food intake, so Barnacle goose droppings are often eaten by the Svalbard Reindeer.

There are 3 different populations of Barnacle geese, one of which is the Svalbard birds, which winter in the Solway Firth of Scotland, this population number around 24,000.



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