Bird Lore: Brant
The Brant is a small, dark, compact goose that rarely ventures far from salt water. Because it breeds throughout the polar region, it is considered circumpolar in its distribution. It can be found in Siberia, Europe, and the North American arctic regions. This species overwinters along both coasts of the United States. Two to three hundred Brants can be seen in Edmonds marine waters during winter.
Highly social in nature, the Brant is almost always found in large flocks. It is a relatively tame species that will allow people to approach, but it will walk or swim away if it feels pressed. This goose feeds primarily on eel grass and sea lettuce. It feeds like a dabbling duck by tipping up in shallow water or walking across exposed mud flats, foraging as it goes. Flocks move frequently during the day in response to tidal changes.
Historically, the Brant overwintered in Puget Trough bays such as Padilla, Samish and Fidalgo. Dungeness on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Grays Harbor on the coast also host large flocks of this species. In recent decades, numbers have been increasing throughout Puget Sound but Edmonds may host one of the larger wintering flocks.
When Brants fly, they rise directly from the water with no running takeoff. They fly in compact flocks, in a tighter formation than that of Canada Geese. They do not fly in the regimented V formation of other geese. The white feathers above and below the tail, called coverts, and the white vent are noticeable in flight.
A good way right now to get close views of these stocky little geese is to walk north from Brackett’s Landing on an ebb tide that exposes the beach and rocks. Or watch them through binoculars from Sunset Avenue. You will see them feeding as they power up for migration to the arctic for their breeding season. The peak of migration is between March and early May. They will return in the fall.
The Brant call has been described aptly as a cross between a honk and a purr, r’r’r’r’ronk. You can listen to it at this link: http://www.xeno-canto.org/160099
Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.