Ian’s Bird of the Week – Barnacle Goose ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter – 9-10-12
I’m back in Dublin after the sad and sudden death of my brother-in-law Gerald, so I’ve chosen a soberly dressed and elegant bird with, for me, an Irish connection, the Barnacle Goose. Barnacle Goose nest in the arctic and winter the more remote areas in Western Europe including the West of Ireland. During a particular severe winter in the 1960s I once saw a flock on the Bull Island in Dublin Bay, a place better known for as a winter haunt of the closely related Brent (British Isles) or Brant (North America) Goose.
On the last day of my trip to Finland in June, I came across a flock grazing near the beach in Hanko on the south east coast. I assumed that it was a feral flock as they were very approachable and I discovered only later that Barnacle Geese have been nesting on islands in the Baltic for the past 40 years.
They are relatively small with a length of 55-70cm/22-28in and, I think, very beautiful. The specific name leucopsis means ‘white-faced’ and the genus Branta comprises the mainly black and white geese including the Brant/Brent and the Canadian.
The name ‘Barnacle’ was originally applied to the goose not the crustacean and the two are linked by a strange myth that developed in the middle ages when the nesting sites of the goose were unknown and the nature of bird migration was not understood. To explain the mysterious appearance of these geese, it was proposed that they hatched from the goose-liked stalk barnacles Lepas anserifera (‘goose-bearing’) which grows on drift wood. The confusion was confounded by the notion that the goose barnacle was actually a plant and sometimes called the goose tree, below, reproduced from Wikipedia.
The myth naturally had religious consequences as it was argued that the Barnacle Geese were not of animal origin or not really fowl. So, eating the goose on meat-less fast days was considered by some Christians to be acceptable. The Jewish faith took a different approach and ruled that they were kosher and must be slaughtered appropriately.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Thanks, Ian. Sorry to hear about Gerald. We will keep you and your sister’s family in our prayers. That is an interesting myth.
See more of Ian’s Bird of the Week.
Ian’s Birdway – Ducks & Allies.