Photo Credit: Tim Tepke
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Branta bernicla
OTHER NAMES: China Goose, Eskimo Goose, Sea Brant, Black Brant, Brant Goose
STATUS: Occasional in fall and winter in Tennessee Valley, Mountain, and Gulf Coast regions. Often associates with snow geese.
DESCRIPTION: A small to medium sized goose about 22 inches long, weighing on average about 3 ½ pounds (the male slightly larger then the female) with a wingspan of 43 ½ inches to 48 inches. Brant have a black head, neck and breast. Brant have a small white patch with slight striations on each side of their neck that resembles a necklace. This characteristic is either lacking or not quite visible in young birds. The back is brown and the underparts are white with gray towards the front. The tail is dark with white undertail coverts that are quite visible when resting on the water. The bill, legs and feet are black. Brant have a long drawn out call; c-r-r or r-r-onk. Brant swim well and do not usually dive unless pursued by a predator such as the bald eagle. They prefer to rest on flats or sandy points.
DISTRIBUTION: Nests on coasts of Arctic Alaska and winters along coasts and bays from southwest British Columbia to Baja, California.
HABITAT: Coastal areas. Found in freshwater and brackish marshes, agricultural fields, and on lakes.
FEEDING HABITS: On wintering grounds, up to 80 percent of their diet is eelgrass. However, the Atlantic Brant have adapted to an alternative diet of sea lettuce and sea cabbage due to a disease during the 1930s and 1940s that severely reduced eelgrass beds. This was not the case for the Pacific or Black Brant (Branta bernicla nigri). The Atlantic Brant population has significantly declined due to the loss of eelgrass beds.
Summer foods include grasses, algae, mosses, stalks and leaves of arctic plants. Brant graze on land, but true to its name as a sea goose have salt glands enabling the consumption of saltwater and saltwater plants. A small portion of their diet also consists of aquatic invertebrates.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Brant nest in loose colonies further north then any other goose. Nests are seldom far from the waters edge and are usually one or two feet above the high tide line. Brant mate for life and arrive on the breeding grounds during late May to June. Nests are located on flats, islands, rivers, deltas and beaches. During June and July, one to seven dull, white eggs are laid in a depression nest lined with down. The female incubates eggs for 22 to 26 days. Once hatched, 1 to 2-day-old goslings are taken to the water. The primary role of the male is to help defend the nest and raise young.
Terres, J.T. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Page 498. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, New York, USA.
Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Page 52. 1987. Second Addition. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., USA
AUTHOR: Ericha Nix, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries