A small goose species with a short, stubby bill, the brent goose (or brant, as it is known in North America), breeds in the high Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Siberian Russia and northern Europe’s Arctic islands. Brant spend winters along North America’s Pacific coast, part of the east coast of the US, and in north-western Europe, from the British Isles to Denmark.
Brent geese are small, dark geese with large wings, a small head, and a short rounded bill. There are four subspecies, with minor differences in plumage according to geographical location, but all share the same black head, neck, and bill, a grayish-black back, black feet and a white rump and undertail.
A small broken white neck ring is visible, which varies in size according to location – in western regions of the US brant have wider neck markings than in the east, although in certain parts of the North Atlantic coast, it’s more common to see brant with a full, unbroken neckband rather than the incomplete patchy markings seen in other populations.
European populations have a darker gray-black belly, while for those that breed in Greenland and North America, the coloring is usually a much lighter shade of gray.
Males and females are largely alike in plumage although the neck band is typically wider and more prominent in males.
Goslings can be told apart from adults as their wing feathers are edged with white, and they frequently lack the white neck markings. By their second year, they are identical in appearance to more senior birds.
Brent Goose standing in muddy estuary
Brent geese are small geese, barely larger than a mallard. Females are up to 6 percent smaller and as much as 10 percent lighter in weight than males.
Brent Goose floating on calm water
Although they are generally quite a quiet species, a hard ‘raunk’ honking sound can be heard in flight and on water, and when large flocks are vocal at the same time, the effect can become exceptionally loud.
Brent Goose honking
Brent geese follow a plant-based diet, consisting primarily of eelgrass and sea lettuce. Algae is also eaten, and in winter, grazing grounds may be expanded to include golf courses and agricultural fields, where grasses and cereal crops are eaten.
Almost immediately after hatching, brent geese are led to grazing lands, where they forage for grasses, particularly the favorite eelgrasses and sea lettuce of their parents.
No parental feeding takes place, with goslings foraging independently alongside their parents as soon as they leave the nest.
Brent Goose feeding
Arctic tundra landscapes and low-lying coastal meadows are ideal breeding sites for brent geese, with salt marshes offering valuable foraging grounds for pairs as they raise their goslings. Remote islands in lakes or rivers are often chosen for their protection from land predators.
During winter, preferred habitats include muddy estuaries, salt marshes, and shallow, sandy shores. In years with little spring rainfall, Brent geese may venture further inland to graze on agricultural fields ahead of migration to breeding grounds.
Three subspecies of brant are present in North America. The black-bellied black brant breeds in the western extremes of the Canadian Arctic and along Alaska’s coasts, and spends winters along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Mexico.
To the east, the Atlantic brant, which has a paler grey belly, breeds in the eastern regions of Arctic Canada and throughout northern Greenland, and migrates south to the coast of the eastern US, between Massachusetts and North Carolina, and can also travel as far east as Ireland.
A third subspecies, the gray-bellied brant, have a mid-gray belly and breed in the western islands in the Canadian Arctic. Winters are spent along the Puget Sound on the coast of Washington.
In Europe, a fourth sub-species, the dark-bellied brent goose, breeds in the central Russian Arctic and migrates to north-western Europe (Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark). Further east, black Brent geese also breed in the Russian Arctic and spend winters in Korea and Japan.
Brent Goose on sandy shore
Winter populations of black brant were estimated at 139,000 individuals in Baja California in 2005. Puget Sound wintering grounds, further north, record an average of 9,000 birds each winter. An estimated 245,000 dark-bellied brent geese are estimated to breed in European Russia, with almost half of these wintering around the British Isles.
Accurate and recent population counts are unavailable, but a 2011 estimate places the global number of individual brent geese at around 315,200 individual birds. Although they are not the most numerous waterfowl species in either Europe or North America, they are spotted commonly enough in winter not to be classed as a rarity.
Brent Goose standing by water
Winter offers the best chance of brant sightings in North America, due to their spring and summer breeding grounds being located in the extreme inhospitable regions of the Canadian Arctic.
In winter, migrants gather at salt marshes, lagoons, bays, and estuaries along the Pacific coast from Alaska to Baja California and mainland Mexico, as well as on the Atlantic coast, where the largest concentrations can be seen between New Jersey and North Carolina.
Each winter up to 105,000 brent geese arrive to spend the non-breeding season feeding around Britain’s coasts.
Two subspecies are found in UK waters: dark-bellied brent geese are frequently spotted along the eastern coast of England, for example in the Wash, the North Norfolk coastal marshes, estuaries in Essex, and the mouth of the Thames, as well as along the southern coast of England in Chichester and Langstone harbors.
Light-bellied birds belonging to the Atlantic brent goose subspecies are found in smaller numbers at Strangford Lough and Lough Foyle in Northern Ireland and are also regular visitors to Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumberland.
Brent Geese in-flight
On average, brent geese live for around 11 years, although much older individuals are sometimes identified, including a ringed individual found to be 28 years and 2 months in 2001.
Breeding is thought to occur for the first time at two years of age.
Brent geese attempt to see off most predation attempts, including those made by avian predators, such as gulls, skuas/jaegers and ravens but are unable to stand up to larger predators, including Arctic foxes, killer whales, golden eagles, snowy owls, and polar bears.
Populations of brant in North America are managed collectively by Canada, the United States, and Mexico, with hunting regulations closely tied to population estimates and limits introduced if the figures start indicating a downward trend.
In the UK, brent geese are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, of 1981, which makes it an offense to kill, injure or capture an individual bird.
Considered a species of least concern globally, there are no immediate threats to the long-term future of brant. Populations are relatively stable, although coastal habitats are potentially at risk of becoming degraded due to the recreational use of estuaries and the increase in industrial activity in coastal areas.
In the UK, brent geese are rated as an Amber species in the British Birds of Conservation Concern list, due to the large winter populations that arrive from northern Europe each autumn. Rising sea levels and the loss of coastal foraging grounds are a threat to the species’ survival in Europe.
Colony of Brent Geese in marshlands
Nesting brent geese choose sites with low-level vegetation, on grassy tundra landscapes where they have a good all-round view of the terrain. Rocky islands, exposed gravel plains, and mudflats dotted with grass are commonly chosen spots, to limit the chance of predators and offer some camouflage to protect their eggs from being noticed.
The female shapes out a shallow bowl shape on the earth’s surface and gradually shapes it as incubation progresses. Grass and down are used as a nest lining, and plant matter is used to cover eggs when they need to be left unattended.
Between late May and early June, brent geese arrive on their breeding grounds already paired. Laying begins within two weeks of the pairs’ arrival, and incubation, which is the sole responsibility of the female, lasts for 23 to 24 days.
Brent geese lay between 3 and 5 eggs, which measure 75 mm by 47 mm (3 in by 1.9 in) and are plain white or creamy buff in color.
Once a pair bond forms between two brent geese – usually at some point during the second year – it usually lasts for many years, often only ending with the death of one mate. Females repairing after the loss of a mate are generally less successful in raising broods than with their previous mate.
Brent Geese during the winter
Despite their small stature, brent geese are a highly territorial and aggressive species, demonstrating feisty intolerance of approaches to their nests, mates and young. Competition for feeding or roosting sites also has the potential to escalate into a physical confrontation.
Brent geese display frequent nocturnal feeding habits, with up to almost 20 percent of each night spent foraging. Roosting spots are found both on land and on water, with brent geese that have been disturbed on land, often heading out to sea to continue roosting in the safety of open water.
Brent Goose in natural habitat
Brent geese are migratory, breeding in the extreme Arctic Circle environments of northern Canada, northern Greenland, and the extreme north of Siberian Russia, and moving to warmer, more southerly latitudes when breeding is complete.
Brant breed in the extreme northern Arctic islands of Canada, along the coast of continental northern Canada, and along Alaska’s coasts. In winter, migration south occurs, with the Pacific coast and a section of the mid-Atlantic coast of the US welcoming migrants from the far northern reaches of North America.
No breeding of brent geese takes place in Britain, but large numbers of winter migrants arrive around the coastlines of the British Isles from October onwards and remain in the UK until the following spring.
Small flock of Brent Geese in-flight
Yes - Brant is the name for this species in the United States, while in the UK, they are commonly known as brent geese.
Brent geese are a different species of goose from the Canada goose and is different in size, distribution, and appearance.
It is thought that the brent goose’s name derives from ‘brandt’, an ancient Norse word meaning ‘burnt’, which reflects the charcoal coloring of the species.
Family:Ducks, geese and swans
56cm to 61cm
110cm to 120cm
1.3kg to 1.6kg
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Greater White-Fronted Goose
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Taiga Bean Goose
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