Don’t Ignore the Barnacles – they’re Actual Birds

Critical birders might have an obsessive curiosity in birds, however one factor they universally don’t like are birds which, they imagine, aren’t correctly wild. It’s taken a very long time for the purists to get used to the quite a few Purple Kites we now have in England, all descended from captive-reared birds that have been launched initially over 30 years in the past. Pheasants, launched in nice numbers for capturing, are regarded with disdain, whereas no one has a superb phrase to say in regards to the flocks of Rose-ringed (Ring-necked) Parakeets that now squawk noisily in all of the London parks. 

Purple Kites at the moment are widespread in a lot of England, due to a extremely profitable re-introduction scheme. This tagged chicken was wild-bred
Pheasants are largely ignored by birdwatchers, regardless of their beauty
Rose-ringed Parakeet, now a standard (however unpopular) resident of many European cities, together with London. This particular person was photographed in India

There’s one downside with this method, as it may possibly result in birds being ignored. Right here in Suffolk we now have spectacular wintering flocks of Barnacle Geese, usually numbering 1000 birds or extra. The purist birders take little curiosity in them, relating to them as no extra fascinating, or thrilling, than the flocks of Canada Geese which have lengthy been established within the county. In accordance with Suffolk Birds 2022 (the annual chicken report), “the birds within the county are a part of a naturalised inhabitants”. Nevertheless, although there have been data of feral Barnacle Geese nesting in Suffolk for a few years, the variety of pairs stay small, and definitely not adequate to account for flocks of the scale now seen each winter. Considerably, in 2022 there have been no data of those geese nesting efficiently anyplace in Suffolk. 

A flock of Barnacle Geese wintering on the Suffolk coast, January 2023. Flocks of over 1,000 birds are recorded yearly

So the place do these geese come from? My guess is that they’re birds that transfer throughout from the Netherlands for the winter. The European Breeding Chicken Atlas 2 makes fascinating studying. “Initially confined to the Arctic, breeding [of Barnacle Geese] is now confirmed all through a lot of the Baltic coast S North Sea. This modification is obvious as an illustration within the Netherlands, the place the rising resident Dutch inhabitants is taken into account to be drawn from birds breeding across the Barents Sea and wintering within the Netherlands.” It goes on to say that the Dutch inhabitants is estimated at 16,000-22,00 pairs. The Atlas was printed in 2020, so these numbers might have been grown since then. 

The Atlas attributes “the fast improve of Barnacle Geese to a number of elements”, of which an important appears to be improved safety of the Svalbard and Russian populations. As these geese unfold naturally as nesting birds by the Baltic, then into Denmark and Holland, it’s hardly shocking that they need to seem in Jap England. It’s lower than 200 miles from the Suffolk coast to that of the Netherlands, a straightforward flight for a strong migratory chicken similar to this goose. 

Barnacles are engaging geese which have lengthy been fashionable in wildfowl collections

In accordance with the Atlas, the mixed inhabitants for the Russian, Baltic, Netherlands inhabitants is round 770,000 people, which is an terrible lot of geese. I’ve watched migrating flocks of Barnacles streaming previous the Baltic island of Öland within the autumn. The numbers heading south are large, a lot so that you simply suppose that the subsequent day the flocks can be smaller, as there can’t be many extra to come back. You’re incorrect, for the subsequent day, and the subsequent, the flocks preserve flying previous in undiminished numbers. It’s spectacular stuff.

Intriguingly, the inhabitants of Darkish-bellied Brent Geese has additionally elevated vastly throughout the identical interval, however the birds present no indicators of colonising Europe, and there are hardly any data of them nesting away from the arctic tundra. (A pair did lay infertile eggs in Iceland in 2018, however that’s about the one file I can discover). Considerably Brent have by no means bred prolifically in captivity, not like Barnacles.

This Barnacle goose is a part of a resident breeding flock in North Norfolk. Observe the rings

There’s a sure magic within the migratory geese that fly to us yearly from the arctic.  Birds which have bred in Holland and easily flown throughout the North Sea might lack the identical attraction, but it surely does appear sure that they’re descendants of pure wild birds, not from captive inventory. Barnacles are full of life, entertaining geese, attractively marked and with neat proportions. I for one actually take pleasure in seeing the flocks that now winter on the Suffolk coast, and really feel that it’s excessive time that we took extra curiosity in them and their actions. In our neighbouring county of Norfolk there’s an growing inhabitants of nesting Barnacles, most of that are ringed. Regardless of attempting, I’ve didn’t see rings on any of the birds within the Suffolk flocks. Dismissing them as “naturalised” doesn’t do them justice.

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