Best time to travel to Scotland

Barnacle Geese in Scotland 2024-2025

These tri-coloured birds are numerous in Scotland—they bark as if they were dogs and are believed to have originated from mollusks in Scottish folklore

Best time: September–mid-April

Barnacle Geese
Barnacle Geese

According to Scottish folklore barnacle geese are believed to have originated from a mollusk that lived on the "barnacle tree"—hence comes the name of the bird. Such an unusual origin is really quite dubious. Some believe the Scottish people just made it up in order to eat meat during Lent as though it were actually shellfish. Even though barnacle geese actually originate from birds, their weird calls are truly reminiscent of yapping dogs. Around 25,000 of these black, grey, and white birds are found between September and mid-April in the southern Orkney Isles, in the Hebrides, and also on the western coasts and further into Solway Firth.​

Practical info

When is the best time to see barnacle geese in Scotland?

Between September and mid-April each year is the ideal time to witness the migration of barnacle geese from Greenland, Svalbard, and Arctic Canada to Scotland's southern Orkney Isles, the Hebrides, western coasts, and Solway Firth. Around 25,000 barnacle geese can be spotted in Scotland during the peak season when they fly and forage in different parts of the country. The exact timing can vary depending on the weather and environmental conditions. Show more

Where can I find barnacle geese in Scotland?

Barnacle geese are frequent in coastal locations such as Scotland's southern Orkney Isles, the Hebrides, western coasts, and Solway Firth. During the winter season, these birds gather in large flocks to feed on seagrass, algae, and other plants in coastal areas and salt marshes. Caerlaverock and WWT reserves in Dumfries and Galloway, the Islay Birding Trail, and the RSPB Scotland reserves on the Inner Hebrides and the Isle of Lewis and Harris are some of the favorite places to spot them. Show more

What is the origin of the name 'barnacle geese'?

Scottish folklore has it that barnacle geese originate from a mollusk species that lived on the 'barnacle tree' around northern Europe. The misconception that barnacle geese were seaweed that could transform into birds persisted for several years. However, it is now known that barnacle geese are migratory birds that breed in the Arctic and winter around the North Atlantic and Scotland. Show more

How many barnacle geese are usually found in Scotland during the winter?

Around 25,000 barnacle geese gather in Scotland during winter after migrating from Greenland, Svalbard, and Arctic Canada. They tend to concentrate in coastal areas and salt marshes, where they feed on seagrass, algae, and other plants. Nonetheless, the number of barnacle geese in Scotland can vary depending on the area and surroundings. Show more

What other unique birds can be found in Scotland besides barnacle geese?

Scotland is home to many bird species apart from barnacle geese. The list includes puffins, golden eagles, capercaillie, red grouse, ptarmigan, and Scottish crossbill. These birds live in diverse ecosystems from coastal cliffs and islands to forests and moorlands. Scotland's bird-watching spots and wildlife reserves are excellent for observing and researching these birds, which makes it a mecca for bird enthusiasts. Show more

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