Photo: Doug Wechsler/Vireo

Priority Bird

Brant

Branta bernicla

No other geese nest as far north as the Brant, and few migrate as far. These small geese are characteristic of coastal areas in summer and winter; most birdwatchers know them from seeing their wintering flocks along both of our coasts. Traveling between their summer and winter outposts, they may fly at altitudes of several thousand feet as they cross great expanses of land or open ocean.
Conservation status In 1930s, a sudden die-off of eelgrass along Atlantic Coast (the main winter food of Brant) may have had serious impact on this species. No long-term damage to numbers, as Brant were able to switch to other food sources, and eelgrass has made partial recovery in these areas.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Salt bays, estuaries; tundra (summer). Usually on wet coastal tundra of high Arctic in summer, along coastlines in fairly mild climates in winter. Migrants may make regular stopovers on a few freshwater lakes in the interior of the continent.
No other geese nest as far north as the Brant, and few migrate as far. These small geese are characteristic of coastal areas in summer and winter; most birdwatchers know them from seeing their wintering flocks along both of our coasts. Traveling between their summer and winter outposts, they may fly at altitudes of several thousand feet as they cross great expanses of land or open ocean.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

forages by wading or tipping up in shallow water, or by walking on tidal flats or on shore. Feeds in flocks at most times of year.


Eggs

3-5, rarely up to 8. Creamy white to pale olive, becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by female only, 22-26 days, usually 24. When female leaves nest to feed, she covers eggs with down, keeping them warm. Young: leave nest within 1-2 days after hatching, are tended by both parents and led to feeding areas, where young find their own food. In long daylight of high Arctic, young feed at all hours and develop rapidly, fledging at 40-50 days.


Young

leave nest within 1-2 days after hatching, are tended by both parents and led to feeding areas, where young find their own food. In long daylight of high Arctic, young feed at all hours and develop rapidly, fledging at 40-50 days.

Diet

mostly plant material. In migration and winter, eats aquatic plants; eelgrass heavily favored where available, also takes wigeon grass, rockgrass, green algae, others. On breeding grounds, grazes on sedges, grasses, pondweed, others. Also eat a few aquatic insects, mollusks, worms.


Nesting

Pair bond usually formed on wintering grounds. Often breeds in loose colonies. Nest site is on small island in tundra pond, slight rise in low grassy flats, usually within 1-5 miles of coast and often subject to destruction by storm tides. Nest is a shallow bowl of grass and other materials, heavily lined with down.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Long-distance migrant, traveling in flocks. Birds from central Canadian Arctic move down east side of Hudson Bay, then may make nonstop flight overland from southern James Bay to central Atlantic Coast of USA. In Alaska, large numbers gather at Izembek Lagoon and then depart almost simultaneously for long overwater flight to wintering areas on Pacific Coast. Migrating flocks may fly very high. Wintering birds may linger later in spring than most geese, as coastal breeding areas in high Arctic remain unsuitable for nesting until summer.

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Migration

Long-distance migrant, traveling in flocks. Birds from central Canadian Arctic move down east side of Hudson Bay, then may make nonstop flight overland from southern James Bay to central Atlantic Coast of USA. In Alaska, large numbers gather at Izembek Lagoon and then depart almost simultaneously for long overwater flight to wintering areas on Pacific Coast. Migrating flocks may fly very high. Wintering birds may linger later in spring than most geese, as coastal breeding areas in high Arctic remain unsuitable for nesting until summer.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A low guttural ruk-ruk.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Brant

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Brant

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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