Brant: Waterfowl Wednesday

It’s my favorite day of the week: Waterfowl Wednesday! A goose that I enjoying seeing the winter on the Jersey Shore is the Brant. Each year I see them in large flocks at the Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

Brant (Branta bernicla)

Description:

A brant is a medium-sized goose (about 24 inches). They look similar to Canada Geese but they are smaller and very dark. Brants have black heads, chests, and necks. Their undersides are white. Pacific coast Brants have black bellies and Atlantic coast Brants have pale bellies. They also have a white partial “necklace”. When you see Brants flying they are dark in the front and white in the back.

Brant Geese-SS
Brant Geese (Image by Sindri Skulason)

Range:

High Arctic tundra in the summer. Pacific and Atlantic Coasts in the winter

Habitat:

Breeding (summer): high Arctic tundra, Winter: coastal salt marshes and estuaries.

Food:

Mainly aquatic plants, especially eelgrass if it is available. May also eat aquatic worms, mollusks, and insects. Brants are dabblers, meaning they will dip their heads in the water with their bottoms in the air to retrieve food. They will also look for food by foot in mud flats.  They mainly forage in groups.

Breeding and Nesting:

Brants will form pairs on their wintering grounds and form loose colonies. The nest is a shallow bowl of grass on the ground that is lined with down. Females will lay between 3-5 eggs and incubate them for around 24 days. A day or two after hatching, chicks will join their parents to forage and will eat constantly. They fledge within 40-50 days.

Sounds:

A low throaty ruk-ruk-ruk

Fun Facts:

  • Brants breed farther north than any other geese species.They migrate extremely far distances. They may fly non-stop up to 1,800 miles from their breeding grounds to their wintering grounds.

Flock-of-brent-geese-flying-over-beach

  • How can you tell the difference between a Canada Goose and a Brant? Brants are smaller, have shorter necks, and are lacking the white spot on their cheeks that are characteristic of Canada Geese. Also in flight Canada Geese fly in a neat V-shape, while Brants will fly in shifting groups.
goose-brant-sm
(Image by Mike Baird)
  • In the 1930’s a disease almost suddenly wiped out the Brant’s main food source, eelgrass. As a result populations dropped dramatically. The survivors switched to sea lettuce. Since then eelgrass have begun to recover on the coasts. Therefore populations have increased again. You can find Brants in large flocks on the coasts in winter. Pacific coast population estimates are around 150,000 while Atlantic coast estimates are around 100,000.
  • The oldest known Brant was 27 years old.

Have you ever seen a Brant?

 

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Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily birdwatch throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

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