Bird of the Month: Brant

By Andy McCormick

PC: Mick Thompson (Brant)

PC: Mick Thompson (Brant)

Scientific Name: Bucephala islandica

Length 25 in

Wingspan 42 in

AOU Band code BRAN

The Brant (BRAN) is about 25” long with a wingspan of 42”, which compares to 45” long and 60” wingspan of the most common Canada Goose.

The genus name Branta (BRAN-tah) is New Latin from Anglo-Saxon bernan, brennan, meaning to burn referring to the charred dark color of this species. The species name bernicla (BER-nih-klah) is New Latin meaning barnacle, from the legend that these birds hatched from the shells of barnacles.

It is a small dark, stocky sea goose with a black head, neck, and breast and a whitish patch on either side of the neck. Extensive white uppertail coverts almost conceal the black tail. The white undertail coverts are conspicuous in flight. The wings are relatively long and pointed and the goose flies with rapid wing beats. The western subspecies, nigricans (NIG-rih-kanz), formerly Black Brant, has a dark belly and the neck patches meet in the front. nigricans is Latin for blackish. The eastern subspecies brota has a pale belly that contrasts with the black chest, and the neck patches do not meet in the front.

The Brant never flies very high as many geese do. They usually stay between 10-30 yards above the water, with more flocks below these limits than above. They are highly social and flocks fly in long, wavy, ragged formations. The Brant has an aversion to flying over land and will fly long distances out of the way to avoid going over land.

They are usually found on the wet coastal tundra of the high Arctic in the summer and in winter are found along coastlines in fairly mild climates. Brant are seen every winter on the West Seattle shoreline field trip in January.

The diet is mostly plant material, with eelgrass heavily favored. They forage by wading or tipping up in shallow water, or by walking on tidal flats or on shore. They feed in flocks most times of the year.

Brant nest on the high Arctic coast along shores of ponds or streams, or on small islands. Nests of seaweeds, grasses, and down are placed in low cover. There are 3-5 dull white eggs with an incubation of 22-26 days. When the female leaves the nest to feed, she covers the eggs with down, keeping them warm. The young leave the nest 1-2 days after hatching, are tended by both parents and led to feeding areas where the young find their own food. In the long daylight hours the young feed continually and develop rapidly, fledging after 40-50 days. There is only one brood per season..