Black Brant

The Black Brant goose is a small, stocky, dark sea goose about the size of a mallard duck, with a blackhead and a short black neck. There is an irregular-shaped white patch around the neck that meets in the front, it has a blackish-brown belly and breast, and a white rear end. The wings are dark, long, and pointed, and contrast with its white marked flanks. The legs and feet are black, and it has a black bill. The western birds have more black on the breast and belly and more extensive white on the neck than the eastern birds. The juvenile doesn’t have a neckband, but has white edging to wing converts.

Black Brant Geese, Vancouver Island, BC
Black Brant Geese, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

They nest in Arctic coastal lowlands in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Brant geese nest in loose colonies. The nest is a depression in the ground on the tundra and is covered by a thick layer of down. It is usually placed near a water source. The female Brant lays 4 to 8 eggs. Both of the parents incubate the eggs. The young fledge in 40 to 50 days but remain close to the parents until the first migration is over.

Never venturing far from saltwater, they migrate south to winter. Black Brant formerly wintered on the British Columbia coast, but it is believed this changed as a result of a decline in eelgrass in the 30s and ’40s, plus overhunting for the Christmas table. Now, only a few winters on Haida Gwaii, and another group winter at Boundary Bay on the Lower Mainland, but the vast majority travel to coastal Western Mexico for the winter.

Black Brant Geese, Vancouver Island, BC
Black Brant Geese, Vancouver Island, BC. Photo by Bud Logan

In the spring, they head up the coast of North America, stopping in the pacific northwest. Their arrival on Vancouver Island is a cause for celebration, as thousands of birds descend on coastal beaches and flats, to feed on eelgrass. The towns of Parkville and Qualicum Beach host a Brant Festival every April. This year (2016) I observed a very large group feeding on herring spawn at miracle beach in the Campbell River area on the island. The geese stay for a month or more, feeding and resting. Then, flock by flock, they leave on for the next leg of their long journey north.

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