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Brent geese

Dark-bellied brent geese grazing on mudflats

Brent geese breed in the far north

Image: Chris Gomersall

There are two distinct races of brent geese. Dark-bellied brent geese breed in northern Russia and spend the winter in southern and eastern England. Pale-bellied brent geese breed mostly in Canada and Greenland and spend the winter mostly in Ireland.

Brent geese nest on the boggy Arctic tundra, where the severe climate allows them only about two months of good weather in which to raise a family. By mid-September, they have left their breeding grounds, and arrive in large flocks on our shores in early October. They spend the winter feeding on eelgrass in estuaries and on crops in adjoining fields.

In April, brent geese leave the UK and Ireland and head north again. The pale-bellied brent geese stop over in Iceland. Here they fatten up, increasing their weight by up to 40 % in preparation for the final 3,000 km (1,865 mile) flight over frozen Greenland to their breeding grounds in Canada. 

The dark-bellied brent geese head the other way – east to Siberia. They stop off along the Baltic coast before reaching the Arctic  in early June, just as the snow and ice is beginning to thaw. 

Brent geese migrate in family groups, flying in V-formation and travelling mostly at night. These groups stay together from one breeding season to the next. Each day, they search for marshland, coastal grassland or farmland to rest and feed on, before pushing on at dusk. In places where the grazing is good they may linger for a week at a time.

Bird guide