Information about the Bird Barnacle Goose
The barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis) belongs to the genus Branta of black geese, which contains species with largely black plumage, distinguishing them from the grey Anser species. Despite its superficial similarity to the brant goose, genetic analysis has shown it is an eastern derivative of the cackling goose lineage.
The barnacle goose was first classified taxonomically by Johann Matthus Bechstein in 1803. Branta is a Latinised form of Old Norse Brandgs, "burnt (black) goose and the specific epithet is from the Ancient Greek leukos "white", and opsis "faced".
The barnacle goose and the similar brant goose were previously considered one species, formerly believed to be essentially the same creature as the barnacle. This gave rise to the English name of the barnacle goose and the scientific name of the brant. It is sometimes claimed that the word comes from a Celtic word for "limpet", but the sense-history seems to go in the opposite direction. The barnacle myth can be dated back to at least the 12th century. Gerald of Wales claimed to have seen these birds hanging down from pieces of timber, William Turner accepted the theory, and John Gerard claimed to have seen the birds emerging from their shells. The legend persisted until the end of the 18th century. In County Kerry, until relatively recently, Catholics could eat this bird on a Friday because it counted as fish.
The barnacle goose is a medium-sized goose, 55-70cm (22-28in) long, with a wingspan of 130-145cm (51-57in) and a body mass of 1.21-2.23kg (2.7-4.9lb). It has a white face and black head, neck, and upper breast. Its belly is white. The wings and its back are silver-gray with black-and-white bars that look like they are shining when the light reflects on it. During flight a V-shaped white rump patch and the silver-gray underwing linings are visible.
Barnacle geese breed mainly on the Arctic islands of the North Atlantic. There are three main populations, with separate breeding and wintering ranges; from west to east:
Small numbers of feral birds, derived from escapes from zoo collections, also breed in other north European countries. Occasionally, a wild bird will appear in the Northeastern United States or Canada, but care must be taken to separate out wild birds from escaped individuals, as barnacle geese are popular waterfowl with collectors.
Barnacle geese frequently build their nests high on mountain cliffs; away from predators (primarily Arctic foxes and 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 die from the impact. Arctic foxes are attracted by the noise made by the parent geese during this time and capture many dead or injured goslings. The foxes also stalk the young as they are led by the parents to wetland feeding areas.
The barnacle goose is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies. According to Sveriges ornitologiska frening the geese began breeding in Sweden in 1971, and according to Skansen it was 40 years ago, more or less, when the entire population of barnacle geese left in the autumn to return in spring, soon after they began breeding in the wild.
The natural history of the barnacle goose was long surrounded with a legend claiming that they were born of driftwood:
The legend was widely repeated in, for example, Vincent of Beauvais's great encyclopedia. However, it was also criticized by other medieval authors, including Albertus Magnus.
This belief may be related to the fact that these geese were never seen in summer, when they were supposedly developing underwater (they were actually breeding in remote Arctic regions) in the form of barnacles-which came to have the name "barnacle" because of this legend.
Based on these legends-indeed, the legends may have been invented for this purpose-some Irish clerics considered barnacle goose flesh to be acceptable fast day food, a practice that was criticized by Giraldus Cambrensis, a Welsh author:
At the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215), Pope Innocent III explicitly prohibited the eating of these geese during Lent, arguing that despite their unusual reproduction, they lived and fed like ducks and so were of the same nature as other birds.
The question of the nature of barnacle geese also came up as a matter of Jewish dietary law in the Halakha, and Rabbeinu Tam (1100-71) determined that they were kosher (even if born of trees) and should be slaughtered following the normal prescriptions for birds.
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