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Brant (Bird)

This small Goose has a wide range – they can be seen on the coastlines of Northern America, Europe, Asia, Siberia, and Greenland.

Breeding in the high Arctic and wintering along U.S. and Canadian coasts gives the Brant a fairly long migration each year. During winter months, Brant sometimes defend family feeding areas. Males defending nests during the breeding season will pursue both predators and other intruding Brant.

Some Brant begin nesting at age two, but the percentage of individuals of a given age that breed increases each year from age two to five. A long lifespan, in some cases over 25 years, usually provides ample opportunities for nesting.


Description of the Brant


The Brant is a small, dark goose with a black head and neck and a white patch just below the head. Its underparts are mostly whitish, as are its uppertail coverts.

Atlantic coast populations paler underneath than Pacific coast populations.  Length: 25 in.  Wingspan: 42 in.Brant 


Same as male.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles have a less distinct white neck patch.


Tundra and saltwater bays.


Grasses and aquatic plants.



Forages by wading, swimming, or walking.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Brant.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History


Breeds in northern Canada and Alaska and winters along the east and west coasts of Canada and the U.S.

Fun Facts

Brant often return to the same breeding and wintering areas year after year.

Brant can fly up to 50 miles per hour.


The call is a “ronk-ronk.”


Similar Species

Canada Goose
Canada Geese have white cheek patches.



The nest is a bowl of grasses placed on the ground.

Number: 3-5.
Color: White or olive.

Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 22-26 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) about 1-2 days after hatching but remain with the adults for some time.


Bent Life History of the Brant

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Brant – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.



For the past 25 years the American brant has been called Branta bernida glaucogastra. (Brehm), white-bellied brant, ever since Dr. Elliott Coucs (1897) called our attention to the supposed subspecific distinction between the common European brant and the North American bird of the Atlantic coast and proposed the adoption of Brehm’s name for our bird. The European bird was supposed to breed in Spitsbergen, Franz-Josef Land, Nova Zambia. and the Taimyr Peninsula, and the American bird. glancogastra. was supposed to breed in western Greenland and westward as far as the Parry Islands. Recent investigations and explorations have shown that this theory is untenable, that the European and the American birds are not separable, and that Branta bernicla glaucogastra (Brehm) is a nomen nudum. Even if there were such a subspecies as the white-bellied brant, the name, glaueogstra, could not be used for it., as it was applied by Brehm to a dark-bellied bird shot on the coast of Germany.

Rev. F. C. R. Jourdain, who has made two recent visits to Spitsbergen, in 1921 and 1922, writes to me:

The pale-breasted form is the one which breeds in Spitsbergen. We got over 20 birds in 1921 and they were all pale, as also were all those examined in 1922. Chapman got 30 or more, and they were all pale too. Koenig speaks of getting dark-breasted birds there, but he figures what he calls the darkbreasted bird, and it does not in the least resemble the uniformly slaty-breasted individuals which visit us in winter. There is some variation among the light-breasted birds, and it is quite evident that the dark ” birds which Koenig refers to are merely specimens in which the brownish-gray markings extend over the whole of the lower breast to the vent, instead of being confined to the breast only. The only really dark-breasted breeding bird I have seen came from Franz-Josef Land, hut we get lots of them here (England) in winter. I am inclined to think that the pale-breasted bird extends from America to Spitsbergen in breeding time, and that perhaps farther east the darker-breasted form predominates.

The two so-called species of brant. Branta bernicict and B. nigicans, together have a complete circumpolar breeding range. The western limit of niqrieans on the Siberian coast is not definitely known, and future investigation may show that it intergrades with the so-called dark-bellied form of bernicla somewhere in the palaearctic region. This would explain the occurrence of both light and dark birds in western Europe in winter, for it is well known that certain birds, such as the yellow-billed loon and the Steller eider, migrate from their breeding grounds in Arctic Siberia to the Scandinavian coasts to spend the winter, and the brant might well be expected to do the same.

In later communications Mr. Jourdain refers to a third form, darker than our so-called glaucoga~tra but lighter than nigrican.s, breeding in western Siberia, Kolguev, and Nova Zembla. Such birds, it seems to me, are intermediates, and show intergradation between ber~nicla (glaucogastra) and nigricans.

There is considerable evidence which points to intergradation between bernicla and nz~qricans in Arctic America. P. A. Taverner writes to me that they have specimens of both forms from Melville Island and that he obtained two specimens at Comox, British Columbia, which are halfway between the two forms and furnish “almost l)Ositive proof of complete intergradation between them.” Dr. R. M. Anderson writes to me:

I have seen the natives shoot a good many brant (supposed to be black brant) around the Mackenzie delta and in Arctic Alaska, and they were quite variable as to paleness. The females and young are lighter in color than the males as a rule, and, if my memory serves me right, some were as light as so-called glaucogastra which I have since seen.

Alfred M. Bailey writes to me regarding birds collected in northern Alaska:

The majority of our specimens taken in the fall were dark bellied and would he referable to the so-called nigricans, although we got many lightcolored birds. In the spring at Wales and Wainwright the birds collected averaged considerably lighter than those taken in the fall, with the dark breasts sharply defined In many cases. The white collar was practically continuous in both the spring and fall hirds.

I notice that European writers are now recognizing nigricans as a subspecies of bermicla. and I believe that they are correct in doing so.

Spring: The brant which have spent the winter farthest south begin to move northward in February, joining the birds which have wintered on the Virginia coast late in February, and moving on to Great South Bay, Long Island, in March. By the middle of April they have moved farther east and are congregated in large numbers off Monomoy, on the south side of Cape Cod. In the old days before spring shooting was abolished this was a famous resort for brant shooting in April. Monomoy Island, now joined to the mainland, extends for 9 or 10 miles southward from the elbow of Cape Cod; the easterii or outer side is a long, high, sandy beach washed by the surf of the broad Atlantic; on the western or inner side, beyond tl~ sand dunes, are large grassy meadows or salt marshes, invaded by shallow bays; at low title broad mud flats, more or less covered with eelgrass, extend for miles along the shore, furnishing ideal feeding grounds for brant and other sea fowl. Between here and the flats around Muskeget Island, a few miles south, immense numbers of brant congregate in the spring; they have been moving gradually northward from their winter resorts, gaining in numbers, by picking up those that have wintered farther north, as they went along. The spring flight is leisurely and largely dependent on the weather and the direction of the wind; cold, northerly, or easterly winds hold them back; but warm days and favorable southwest winds are sure to start them moving. Dr. Leonard C. Sanford (1903) has well described the departure of the brant from the Monomoy flats, which usually takes place in the latter part of April, as follows:

Some time in April comes a pleasant day, warm and sunny, with a southwest wind. The several thousand brant in Chatham nay feed greedily until the rising tide removes their food from reach. Now they assemble in deep water in the center of the bay, study the weather, and discuss the advisability of journeying toward their summer home. Sodn 15 or 20 birds take wing, fly back and forth over the others, honking loudly, and circling ever higher until they have reached a considerable altitude; then the long line swings straight, headed northeast. Out over the beach, over the ocean it goes, and the birds in it will not be seen again. Then another flock follows, taking exactly the same course; flock after flock succeeds and the movement is kept up until dark. You may sit in the blind next day or sail across the bay, you will see no brant save a few stragglers; branting is through for the year.

Up to this time the flight has been Wholly coastwise, marshaling the hosts for the main flight. But here there is apparently an occaslonal, if not a regular, offshoot from the main flight, which migrates overland from Long Island Sound to the St. Lawrence River, for Dr. Louis B. Bishop (1921) writes:

Prof. A. E. Verrill informed me that on May 17, 1914, he saw, with Mr. 0. E. Verrill, many flocks of brant flying north up the Housatonic Valley near the mouth of the Housatonic River; that most were high in the air, but some almost within gunshot; also that he saw others flying northwest while at Outer Island, Stony Creek, about May 22.

But the main flight, when it leaves Cape Cod, flies northeastward to the Bay of Fundy, across the neck of Nova Scotia to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in the vicinity of Prince Edward Island. Here, according to B. H. Forbush (1912): about June 1 those in the district around Charlottetown (which probably comprise a great part of the Atlantic coast flight) begia to assemble in Hillsborough Bay, outside of Charlottetown Harbor, on the south side of the island. Here they gather, between St. Peters and Governors Island, in preparation for their northern journey. From June 10 to 15 they leave in large flocks. Sometimes four or five such flocks follow one another, about a mile apart.

Richard C. Harlow writes to me that: during the last half of May the brant fairly swarm in the sheltered bays and channels along the coast of Northumberland County, New Brunswick. Here In certain favored places are channels from 1 to 5 miles wide, lying between the mainland and the sandy coastal islands. Where the water is shallow an abundant growth of eelgrass occurs, and here, l)rotected from the open seas beyond the islands, the brant find an ideal haven. There is a noticeable increase of the birds since spring shooting was abolished, and during the last 10 days of May I have seen the ivater dotted with them in flocks ranging from three or four to hundreds. During a 10-mile run in this region flocks were rising every few minutes, and the din from their honking was terrific, especially in the early morning and evening. The main flocks leave in a body about June 1, though stragglers linger up until June 10. As the time draws near for their departure they gather into larger flocks and grow still more noisy, but no premature mating tendencies are observed.

Harrison F. Lewis has sent me the following notes on the movements of brant on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence:

Warden P. G. Rowe, of Prince Edward Island, was sent to the Bay of Seven Islands last spring (1922) to protect the brant while they passed there, as they do every spring. He arrived there on May 17 and found at that time some hundreds of brant iii the bay. He was unable to get near them. Natives of Seven Islands told him that they bad arrived there about the 1st of May; that they came ~into the bay from the southwest by a “pass” never used by the great brant flight, as though they bad descended the St. Lawrence; and that the same thing occurred each spring. These brant all left the bay some days before the usual big flight of brent began to arrive.

This may be the flight, referred to above, which migrates overland from Long Island Sound and which naturally would arrive earlier. When Dr. Charles IV. Townsend and I reached the Bay of Seven Islands. May 23, 1909, no brant were there, nor did we see any on our cruise farther eastward down the coast; but when we returned to Seven Islands on June 22 we were told hy several observers that there had been a big flight there in the meantime and all had gone but one. They came the last of May and were practically all gone, in the direction of Hudson Bay, before June 20. Mr. Lewis’s notes confirm these statements very well, as follows:

I may also say that the big flight of brent from Prince Edward Island passed the Bay of Seven Islands in the early days of June (5: 15) this year. They all enter the bay by the two easternmost “passes,” chiefly by the most eastern “pass” of all. The number entering the bay was checked carefully by Warden Rowe, who was able to count them very well, as ihey passed at a low elevation, chiefly in flocks of two or three hundred or less. He sets the total number at at least 60,000. I believe that this includes practically the entire species.

Their route overland to Hudson Bay and from there to their northern Arctic breeding places is not so easily traced. They have not been noted inspring on the west coast of Hudson Bay, where they are reported as common in the fall. They may migrate up the east coast or they may fly straight north overland to Ungava Bay. Mr. Lucien M. Turner’s notes, which seem to point to the overland route, say:

At Fort Chimo they arrive from the 20th of May to the 20th of June. They fly past the station of Fort Chimo over the water in the Koksoak. At times they are as high as 100 yards, and oftener only a few feet above the xvater or running ice. They come at a time when it is almost impossible to get at them on account of ice, and if this is not present they fly too high. They follow the sinuosities of the river and only cross such points that they can see over. Thousands of them are seen every spring and never one of them in the fall. They are reported by the Eskimo to fly southward over Hudson Bay. The route taken in the spring is to the west of Anticosti Island, thence north to the “Height of land” where the Koksoak River descends, along which they fly northward. They appear fatigued when they reach Hudson Strait, but with rapid beat of wing they pursue their course to the unknown regions beyond.

From here they apparently pass to the westward of Baffin Land and spread out over their breeding grounds from Melville Island to northern Greenland. Dr. Donald B. MacMillan tells me that they appear in large numbers in spring on the southwest coast of Baffin Land and apparently cross the center of that land, over a chain of lakes, to Baffin Bay and fly straight north to Ellesmere Land and northern Greenland, arriving at Etah about June 1. These early arrivals must be the vanguard of the earliest flight. He says that Sverdrup has seen them in Eureka Sound and Peary has seen them at the north end of Axel Heiberg Land, Cape Thomas Hubbard, and on the north coast of Grant Land, the northernmost land known.

Nesting: The best account I have of the nesting habits of this species comes in some notes sent to me by the Rev. F. C. It. Jourdam; he writes:

Although closely allied to the barnacle goose, the brent differs widely from It in Its breeding habits. While the barnacle goose has attained security from marauders by placing its nest in inaccessible spots on mountain sides, the brant prefers as a rule to breed on the little hohas and outlying islets which fringe the coast. Here for centuries they have bred undisturbed save for an occasional visit from a sealing sloop, but of late years, since most of these vessels have been fitted with auxiliary oil engines, the sloops have taken to working systematically the eider hoims for eggs and down, and the geese In consequence have been driven from many of their old haunts by indiscriminate shooting during the breeding season. No doubt a good many pairs still breed on some of the less accessible islands, but apparently many birds now nest also on the mainland, especially on the grassy islands formed by the many channels into which the rivers tend to divide when the valleys open out. The diminution in the number of Arctic foxes by trapping has probably rendered this type of site less dangerous than formerly, but we had evidence of nests of this kind being destroyed by foxes.

On Moffen Island, which is practically a huge shingle bed, we found several pairs breeding among the shingle and in one case on the “slob-land” not far off. As in the case of the other geese, Incubation is performed by the goose alone, but the gander mounts guard by her side and is generally to be found on duty. The normal clutch is apparently 3 to 5, but Koenig records one Instance of 6 and Koithoff 7. Several cases of 2 and even 1 incubated egg occurred, but are probably due to the fact that a previous clutch had been taken. The nests vary a good deal in appearance. On low islets they may be found among the eider ducks’ nests, and aro substaiirinlly built of mosses, lichens, and other vegetable matter, with a plentiful lining of light gTayish down. When flushed from incubated eggs, both birds show groat anxiety, flying round and round with anxious “gaggling.” On shingle banks, where little nesting material is available, the nest may be little more than a hollow among the stones, lined with down and perhaps a few bits of seaweed or lichen. While hiding in order to watch the bird back to the nest, it was inteyesting to notice the head and upper neck of the goose silently watching us from behind a bank of shingle, and all the time keeping as much as possible out of sight, so that the contest resolved itself into one of endurance.

The nests found by Doctor MacMillan’s (1918) party in northern Greenland were apparently similar in location and construction. ‘XV. Elmer Ekblaw writes to me:

The brant, whether it comes from Europe or from America, arrives in northwest Greenland about mid-June. It appears in rather large flocks, from about 15 to 50 in number, generally sweeping along the coast in low, long files. When they arrive the ice is well broken and open, so that they find no lack of feeding grounds. Either they are mated when they arrive, or they mate soon after, without any distinct mating season, because they proceed at once to the business of nesting and incubation. They gather along the shores of the rocky islets, and usually group their nests somewhat gregariously. Lyttleton Island, MeGarys Rock, and Sutherland Island are favorite nesting places. The nests, like those of the elders, are placed among the tussocks of grass or sedge growing on the low flat ledges of the islets xvhere they nest. The nests are heavily lined xvith dark down, and the full clutch of eggs seems to vary considerably. Some nests held but 4 eggs, while a few had 11 or 12. The period of incubation is between three and fonr weeks.

Col. John E. Thayer (1905) has a nest and four eggs taken by J. S. Warmbath on Ellesmere Land, of which he says:

The nest was found June 17, 1900, on a ledge of rock, 20 feet from the ground, among elder ducks’ and glaucous gulls’ nests. Both birds were shot. The female was shot on a slight elevation above the nest and the male in the water near it.

Eggs: The brant ordinarily lays from 3 to 5 eggs, though as many as 6 or 8 have been recorded. The 4 eggs in the Thayer (1905) collection, referred to above, are described as “dull creamy white and smaller than eggs of the black brant.” Four eggs in the author’s collection, taken on Eider Duck Island, northern Greenland, June 18, 1917, by ‘XV. Elmer Ekblaw, are creamy white in color, clean and smooth, but not glossy, and elliptical ovate in shape. The measurements of 54 eggs, in various collections, average 71.7 by 47.1 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 81.1 by 49.4, 77 by 51.3, 60,4 by 38.8, and 61.8 by 36.5 millimeters.

Young: The period of incubation is not definitely known, but it is probably about four weeks. The female alone incubates, but the male stands guard near by and helps defend the nest. Mr. Jourdain says, in his notes: We first met with the pretty ashy gray goslings on July 14, but Koenig mentions having seen them on July 4 and 10, so that probably the normal time for fresh eggs is during the first fortnight of June. The sailors on our boat succeeded in rearing one gosling, providing freshly cut pieces of turf daily and allowing the bird to feed itself.

On July 17 a flock of about 60 geese, which had shed their flight feathers and were temporarily unable to fly, was met with on a lagoon up the Sanen River. They kept close together In a compact body, the barnacles usually leading and the brent and pink-footed following. When the flock had been fired at several times and about 18 specimens secured, the pink-footed geese separated themselves from the rest of the party and led the way toward land, running with considerable speed and soon putting themselves out of danger, an example soon followed by the rest.

Mr. Ekblaw writes to me:

As soon as the young are batched they hurry to sea. They dive and swim agilely almost as soon as they reach the water. Several broods of young are wont to congregate together, the mothers aiding one another in vigilant guidance and guard over the flock. They are exceedingly shy, and It is wellnigh impossible to approach them except by surprise. They grow and develop fast, so that by mid-September they are ready for their departure. As soon as the ice begins to form in the fjords the brant begin to leave. By October 1 the last long, low-flying files of migrating brant have passed the outer capes; almost nine months sup by before they appear again.

Plumages: J have never seen the downy young of the brant, but it is described in Witherby’s Handbook (1921) as follows:

Down of crown, center of nape, upper parts and sides of body pale mouse gray, some tipped grayish white; patch on lores and lines above eye sepia; chin, throat, and rest of neck white; remaining under parts ashy white, down with dusky-brown bases.

The juvenal plumage during the first fall js similar in a general way to that of the adult, except that the black areas are duller and more brownish, the white neck patches are lacking, the feathers of the scapulars, and median wing coverts are broadly edged with buffy white, and those of the back and other coverts are more narrowly edged with the same; the secondaries are also narrowly edged with white. Molting and wear of the contour feathers, especially about the head and neck, during the winter produce an advance toward maturity; the white neck patches appear in January, but the wings retain the juvenal characters until the following summer. A complete molt in summer produces a plumage indistinguishable from that of the adult.

Food: According to Witherby’s Handbook (1921) the food of the brant on its breeding grounds consists of “grass, algae, moss, and stalks and leaves of arctic plants (Friophorum, Rartunoulus, Cerastium, Oxyria, and Saxifraga) .” The “young feed on Gramin.eae and Oxyria.”

While on our coasts their chief food is eelgrass (Zo.stera marina), which grows so extensively in our shallow bays and estuaries. At certain stages of the tides, the last half of the ebb or the first half of the flood, when the beds of eelgrass are uncovered or covered with shallow water, the brant resort to them in large numbers to feed. They prefer the roots and the whitish lower stems, but they eat the green fronds also. As soon as the water is shallow enough for them to reach the grass by tipping up they begin to feed, and they keep at it until the tide again covers the flats too deeply. While most of the birds are feeding with heads and necks below the surface there are always a few sentinels on watch to warn them of approaching danger. They pull up much niore eelgrass than they can eat at once; this floats off with the tide and often forms small floating islands, far off from shore, to which the braift resort at high tide to feed again. John Cordeaux (1898) says that the longer pieces of Zostera “are neatly rolled up, like ribbons, in their stomachs”; they also devour the fronds of some species of algae. crustaceans, mollusca, worms, and marine insects. Gatke says that at Heligoland, when the sea is calm, small companies will approach the cliffs and pick off the small mollusca and crustaceans.

I have at times been greatly entertained in watching a flock of brant feeding in shallow water, close inshore, tile greater portion of the birds upside down, their rumps and tails showing the white coverts. only visible as they greedily tear at the blades and roots of the grass wrack, whilst others are seizing the floating fragments of tbe plant, broken off and dislodged by their nodes; and on the outside there are always some with heads held high, over on the watch, and ready to give alarm. All the time they keep a continuous, noisy gabbling and grunting, the rear birds constantly s~vimming forward to get in advance of their fellows, a procedure which I have known, more than once, bring them xvithin range of an ordinary sporting gun.

Brant in captivity are especially fond of barley and will eat corn and other grains. George H. Mackay (1893) says:

Two wing-tipped birds I have iii confinement eat with avidity the alga (Vice lectaca). They also eat Zosfcra marina, preferring the white portion farthest from the extremity of the Ilade. They cut this up by cliexving first on one side and then on the other of their mandibles, which cuts the grass as clean as if scissors had been used. The motion reminds one strongly of a dog eating, the bird turning its bead much the same xvay. They are fond of whole corn and common grass. These confined birds drink after almost every mouthful, from a pan of fresh waler. The wild birds living in this neighborhood have no opportunity of obtaining fresh water.

Doctor MacMillan tells me that lie has seen brant, when they first arrive in Baflin Land in the spring, feeding on the black lichens which grow on the rocks on the uplands.

Behavior: Brant do not ordinarily fly in V-shaped flocks, like Canada geese, but in long undulating lines, spread out laterally in straight company-front formation, or in a curving line, or in an irregular bunch, and without a definite leader. When migrating overland they fly high, but when traveling along the coast they usually fly within a few feet of the water. Their flight is apparently slow and hcavy, but it is really swifter than it seems. A flock of oncoming brant is a thrilling sight to the expectant gunner; he can recognize afar the long wavy line of heavy black birds; as they draw near, the white hind parts show up in marked contrast to the black heads and necks; and soon he can hear their gabbling, grunting notes of greeting to his well-placed decoys. They are naturally shy birds, and we seldom got a shot at the passing flocks when anchored off the shore in small boats. But on thefr feeding grounds they are more fearless and will decoy well to live or even wooden decoys around a well-concealed blind. Brant can swim well, but do not dive unless hard-pressed. They prefer to skulk and hide by stretching the neck out on the water or in the grass. They are very fond of sand and like to rest on sandy points and sand bars.

Mr. Cordeaux (1898) describes the voice of the brant very well, as follows:

The cuinmoji cry or call note of the brant is a loud metallic chronic, chronk. The confused gabbling and mixed cries of a flock can be heard at an immense distance at sea. They have another, and double, note, which has been likened to the word torock, constantly repeated on the wing; and the alarm cry is a single word, weak.

Dr. D. G. Elliott (1898) says:

It has a t)eculiar guttural note, which is frequently uttered, resembling cer-r-r-rup, or r-r-r-rouk-, or r-r-rup, and with a rolling intonation, and, when a large number of these birds are gathered together, the noise they make is incessant and deafening. I have been in the vicinity of a bar on which were congregated many thousands of brant, and their voices made such a din that it was difficult to hear one’s own in speaking, and when they rose at the report of a gun the sound of their myriad wings was as the roar of rushing waters.

Fall: Winter comes early in the far North, and the bl’ant are forced to start on their fall migration carlv in September or even late in August. The route differs only slightly from that taken in the spring. They now migrate down the west coast of Hudson Bay, cross eastern Canada to the Gtilf of St. Lawrence. which they reach late in September, cross the neck of Nova Scotia to the Bay of Fundy, and then head straight for Cape Cod, where they usually begin to arrive about the middle of October. So far their flight has been more rapid than in the spring, hut from here on their movements are more leisurely and they scatter along the coast, lingering at favorable spots until well into the winter.

Game: From the standpoint of the epicure the brant is one of our finest game birds, in my opinion the finest, not even excepting the far-famed canvasback. I can not think of any more tielicious bird than a fat, young brant, roasted just right and served hot, with a bottle of good Burgundy. Both the bird and the bottle are now hard to get; alas, the good old days have passed.

A few brant are shot, as they migrate along the coast, by gunners anchored offshore for coot shooting; the long undulating line of big black birds with white hind quarters is easily distinguished from the irregular flocks of the scoters; a thrill of anticipation runs along the line as word is passed from boat to boat; the brant will not decoy to the wooden blocks of coot shooters, but they may pass over or near one of the boats or swing and fly along the line near enough for a shot; but more often they give the boats a wide berth, and the disappointed gunner fires in vain at the coveted birds, which are probably farther away than they seem to be.

Real brant shooting may be had at only a few favored localities where the birds are wont to congregate, and then only with an elaborate equipment. It was a sorry day for the brant shooter when spring shooting was abolished, for the brant is the one bird above all others for which spring seems to be the natural shooting season. l3rant seem to be more plentiful in the spring than in the fall and to linger longer on their favorite feeding grounds at that season. April brant shooting at Monomoy has long been famous in the annals of Massachusetts sportsmen, when formerly splendid sport could be enjoyed. E. I-I. Forbush (1912) says:

Hapgood gives a record of 44 birds killed from one of these boxes at one shot, and states that 1,000 or 1,500 were killed in a season. This was many years ago, before the formation of the brant clubs. No such number has been killed in recent years. The average itumber killed by the members of the Monomoy Brantiug Club for 34 years, during the Hapgood regime, is a trifle over 266 birds per year.

Now that we can shoot only in the fall, no such sport is obtainable; there are still pleilty of brant, as the spring flights are enormous, but on the Monornoy Flats, where my limited experience has been gained, the brant seem to be comparatively scarce in the fall, and they are so constantly disturbed by the busy fleet of scallop fishermen’s power boats that they do not remain to feed.

On Monomoy our brant shooting is done from boxes located on favorable points or sand bars near the feeding grounds. The box is well made and water-tight, 6 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet deep; bi a enough for three men; it is sunken into the sand deep enough to be covered at high tide; numerous bags, sometimes 50 or 60, of sand are piled around it to hold it in place; and if it is in a grassy place, which helps to conceal it, the sloping sides of the pile may be thatched with marsh grass woven into the meshes of poultry netting, held in place by stakes and weighted with sand. Unless there is a natural sand bar near the box, one must be made, on which the live decoys are located and where the wild birds may alight. Live decoys are preferable, but brant will come to good wooden decoys if properly placed; a supply of both is desirable. The brant feed at low tide away off on the eelgrass beds; but as the rising tide covers the grass too deeply, they are driven to seek other feeding grounds or sanding places, and in flying about will often come to the decoys. The best shooting then is for a short time only at about half-flood tide and again at about half ebb, while the birds are moving. The morning tides are considered the best, so it is often quite dark when we tramp down through the marsh to our box, heavily laden with decoys, guns, and ammunition and encumbered with rubber boots and oilskins, for it is cold and wet work. We set out the decoys, bale out the box, and sit low on a wet seat, our eyes just above the rim of the box, and scan the flats for distant flocks of brant. Occasional shots at passing birds or small bunches on their way seem like fair sport. But when a large flock swims up to the decoys on the rising tide or flies up and settles on the bar among them, it is exciting enough, but it seems like wanton slaughter to fire a battery of guns at a given signal into a dense mass of birds. Perhaps a dozen or a score of birds are killed or wounded and we jump out of the box and go splashing off through the mud and water to retrieve the cripples. When the rising tide finally drives us out of our box, we may have a large bunch of birds to lug back to the club house, but have we given them a fair show for their lives?

Brant shooting in Great South Bay, Long Island, and in southern waters is usually done from batteries, such as are used for canvasback-duck shooting. As this means wing shooting most of the time, it seems more sportsmanlike. The battery may be anchored near their feeding ground or near a floating mass of eelgrass, known as a “seaweed bank,” to which the brant resort to feed.

Winter: The winter home of the brant is along the Atlantic coast from New Jersey southward. Probably most of the birds spend the winter on the coast of Virginia and North Carolina. T. Gilbert Pearson (1919) writes:

In Pamlico Sound the long extended lines of submerged sandbars and mudflats, with their abundant supplies of eelgrass, make an Ideal winter resort for the brant. They arrive from the north usually early In November, but the exact date depends much upon weather conditions. In flight they usually go in compact flocks without any apparent leader. They move slowly and often appenr loath to leave a favorite feeding ground, even returning to It many times after being disturbed.

On clear winter days, as one sails along the reefs in the region about Ocracoke or Hatteras, flocks of brant, disturbed from their feeding areas, arise In almost constant succession for miles, their numbers running far into the tens of thousands. When heavy winds arise these large rafts are broken up.and latcr when the l)ir(ls are flying singly or in small companies they readily draw to decoys. It is theii that the gunners get in their most telling work, bags of 75 or 100 birds being sometimes taken in a day. Near Cape Hatteras I once lay in a battery near a local gunner, who shot 50 brant between the hours of 10 a. m. and 2 p. In., and the size of his kill in four hours occasioned no particular c(Imnleat in the rieighbnrhood.

Breeding range: Arctic regions north of eastern North America, Europe, and Western Asia. East to Spitsbergen, Franz Joseph Land. Nova Zembla. Kolguev, and the Taimyr Peninsula. On both coasts of Greenland. south to about 70~ N., and north to at least 810 or 820 N. South to about 740 on islands around tile Gulf of Boothia, Prince Regent Inlet, and Wellington Channel. West to about 1000 or 1100 W. Seen in summer and probably breeding as far north as explorers have been, on the Parry Islands, Axe! Heiberg Land, Grant Land, and Greenland. Probably intergrades with wigricans at both tile eastern an(l the western limits of its range.

Winter range: Atlantic coast of United States. Regularly from New Jersey to North Carolina; more rarely eastward to Long Island and Massachusetts (Marthas Vineyard) ; and rarely south to lilorida. Coasts of northwestern Europe. from the Baltic and North Seas, to the British Isles and France; occasionally to Morocco, the Mediterranean, and Egypt. Occurs more or less regularly on tile Pacific coasts of Canada and United States.

Spring migration: Fully described above. Early dates of arrival: New York, Long Island, February 15; Rhode Island, Block Island, March 8; Massachusetts, Vineyard Sound, March 10; Maine, Englishman Bay. April 22; Quebec, Bay of Seven Islands, May 1; latitude 790 N., May 30; northern Greenland, Etah, June 1 Grinnell Land, latitude 820, N., June 7; Boothia Peninsula, June 8; Wellington Channel, June 2.

Late dates of departure: North Carolina, first week in April; Rhode Island, April 28; Massachusetts. Cape Cod, May 17; Prince Edward Island, June 12; Quebec, Bay of Seven Islands, June 15.

Fall migration: Early dates of arrival: Massacllusetts, Cape Cod. September 11; Rhode Island, September 17; New Yoik, Long Island, September 8; New Jersey, Barnegat Bay, October 14. Main flight reaches the Gulf of St. Lawrence late in September and New England in October. Late dates of departure: Maine. December 8ï Massachusetts. Cape Cod, December 14; New York. Lono’ Isllnd December 20.

Casual records: flas wandered east on the fall migration to Labrador (Nain. October. 1S99) and Nova Scotia (Sable Island, November 7, 1908). Stragglers, probably from a Hudson Bay migration route, have been recorded from Ontario (Toronto, December 2, 1895, and November 12, 1899), Manitoba (Shoal Lake and Lake Manitoba), Michigan (Monroe, November 8, 1888), Wisconsin (by’s record), and Nebraska (Omaha, November 9, 1895). Occurs often, perhaps regularly, on the Pacific coast: British Columbia (Comox, December 13, 1903), and California (Humboldt County, January 30, 1914). Brooks (1904) says that ” about 8 per cent of the brant in Comox Bay are the eastern species.” Accidental in the West Indies (Barbados, November 15, 1876), Louisiana, and Texas.

Egg dates: Greenland: Four records, June 14 to July 13. Ellesmere Land: One record, June 17.


It seems strange that this bird (which is apparently only a subspecies of the eastern brant), so abundant on the Pacific coast and such a rare straggler on the Atlantic coast, should have been first recognized in New Jersey and described from a specimen taken at Egg Harbor. George N. Lawrence (1846), who described it, says:

When on a shooting excursion some years since, at Egg Harbor, I noticed a bird flying at some distance from us which our gunner said was a blac] brant. This was the first intimation I had of such a bird. Upon further inquiry of him, he informed me he had them occasionally, but they ~vere not common. I have learned from Mr. Philip Brasher, who has passed much time at that place, that, speaking to the gunners about them, they said they were well known there by the name of black brant, and one of them mentioned that he once saw a flock of five or six together. Since then two others have been obtained at the same place, one of which I hare in my possession.

Spring: Chase Littlejohn, in some notes sent to Major Bendire, says of the migration of black brant across the Alaska Peninsula:

Thousands of these geese pass a mile or two offshore each spring on their way north; they follow the. coast line from the east~vard until they come to Morzhevia Bay, where they sheer off for the Bering Sea. There bay and sea almost meet, and as they have a great aversion to flying over the land they select a narrow portage from the hay to a long lake, which is separated from the Bering Sea by a very narrow sand bar, not over 100 yards wide, and instead of crossing the bar they fly to the opposite end of the lake, fully 2 relIes, and follow the outlet of the lake into Bering Sea and back to where you would suppose they ~vould have crossed in the first place, and then comitinnue on their way north. in years gone by I think there was a passage through, but by the action of the sea it has been closed. But the geese do not care to forsake their old route and consequently break through their aversion of flying over the land and cross the narrow portage. A few birds go farther on and fly through False Pass and probably passes farther on, but the great majority take the Morzhovia Bay route.

The spring migration of the black brant in northern Alaska and the circumstances surrounding it have been so attractively portrayed by Dr. E. XV. Nelson (1881) that I can not refrain from quoting parts of what he says about it, as he observed it at St. Michael. Alaska; he writes:

The long reign of ice and snow begins to yield to the mild influence of the rapidly lengthening days; the middle of May is renched, and the midnight sky over the northern horizon blushes with delicate rose tints, changing to purple toward the zenith. Fleecy clouds passing slowly across the horizon seem to quiver and glow with lovely hues, only to fade to dull leaden again as they glide from the reach of fair Aurora. The land, so lately snowbound, becomes dotted with pools of water, and the constantly narrowing borders of the snow soon make room for the waterfowl which, with eager accord, begin to arrive In abundance, some upon lagging wings, as if from far away, ethers making the air resound with joyous notes as they recognize some familiar pond where, for successive seasons, they have reared their young in safety, or, perhaps a favorite feeding ground. At this time the white-fronted and Hutchins geese take precedence In numbers, though, to be sure, they have been preceded for two weeks by the hardy pintail duck, the common swan, and, lastly, that ornithological harlequin, the sandhill crane, whose lend rolling note is heard here and there as it stalks gravely along, dining upon the last year’s berries of Empetrum niprum, when, meeting a rival, or perchance one of the fair sex, he proceeds to execute a burlesque minuet.

A few days later, upon the mirror-like bosoms of myriads of tiny lakelets, the graceful northern Phalaropes flit here and there or swim about in pretty companies. At length, about the 20th of May, the first barn swallow arrives, and then we begin to look for the black brant, the “nimkee,” as it Is called by the Russians, the “luk-lug-u-nuk” of the Norton Sound Eskimo. Ere long the avant-courier is seen In the form of a small flock of 10 or 15 indivIduals which skim along close to the Ice, heading directly across Norton Sound to the vicinity of Cape Nome, whence their route leads along the low coast to Port Clarence where, I am told by the natives, some stop to breed but the majority press on and seek the Ice-bordered northern shore of Alaska and even beyond to unknown regions far to the north.

The 22d of May a native came in bringing a lot of geese and reporting plenty of black brant up the “canal.” For the benefit of the unfortunate few who have not been at St. Michael I may explain that the “canals’ Is a narrow and shallow tidal channel which separates St. Michael Island from the main land and Is bordered on either side by a stretch of low, flat land abundantly dotted with brackish ponds and Intersected by numerous small tide creeks. As would be surmised, this forms a favorite haunt for various kinds of waterfowl.

Preparing the tent and other paraphernalia, two of us, accompanied by a couple of natives, started out the next morning with a sled and team of five large dogs, driven tandem, just as the sun gilded the distant hilltops and gave a still deeper tint to the purple haze enveloping their bases. The sharp, frosty air and the pleasurable excitement of the prospective hunt, after months of inactivity, causes an unusual elation of spirits, and with merry jests we speed along until, in a short time, we approach a low, moundlike knoll rising in the midst of innumerable lakelets. A strange humming, for which we were at first unable to account, now becomes more distinct, and we perceive its origin in the united notes of scores of flocks of brant ;vhich are dispersed here and there over the half bare ground. Some sit along the edges of the snow banks or upon the ground, still sleeping, while others walk carelessly about or plume themselves in preparation for the work before them. Their low, harsh, gutteral gr-r-r-r, gr-r-r-r rises in a faint monotonous matinal xvhose tone a week later may waken the weird silence in unkno~vn lands about the Pole.

Reaching the knoll before mentioned, we pitch our tent, and after tieing the dogs to keep them within bounds we separate to take positions for the morning flight. Each of the party is soon occupying as little space as possible behind some insignificant knoll or tuft of grass that now and then breaks the monotonous level. The sun rises slowly higher and higher until at length the long, narrow bands of fog hovering over the hare ground are routed. Now we have not long to wait, for, as usual at this season, the lakes, which are frozen over nightly, open under the rays of the sun between 7 and 9 in the morning and start the waterfowl upon their way. The notes, which until now have been uttered in a low conversational tone, are raised and heard more distinctly and have a harsher Intonation. The chorus swells and dies away like the sound of an aeolian harp of one or two heavy bass strings, and as we lie close to the ground the wind whispers among the dead plants in a low undertone as an accompaniment; but while we lay dreaming the sun has done its work; the lakes have opened, and suddenly a harsh gr-r-r-r, gr-r-r-r, gr-r-r-r causes us to spring up, hut too late, for, gliding away to the northward, the first flock goes unscathed. After a few energetic remarks upon geese in general and this flock In particular, we resume our position, but keep on the alert to do honor to the next party.

Soon, skimming along the horizon, flock after flock is seen as they rise and hurry by on either side. Fortune now favors us, and a large flock makes directly for the ambush, their complicated and graceful evolutions leading us to almost forget why we are lying here upon our face in the bog with our teeth rattling a devil’s tattoo in the raw wind. On they come, only a few feet above the ground, until, when 20 or 80 yards away, we suddenly rise upon one knee and strike terror into the hearts of the unsuspecting victims. In place of the admirable order before observed, all is confusion and, seemingly in hope of mutual protection, the frightened birds crowd into a mass over the center of the flock, uttering, the while, their ordinary note raised in alarm to a higher key. This is the sportsman’s time, and a double discharge as they are nearly overhead will often bring down from 4 to 10 birds. Scarcely have the reports died away when they once more glide along close to the ground; the alarm is forgotten; order is again restored, and the usual note is heard as they swiftly disappear in the distance. Thus they continue flying until 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon when, after a pause of three or four hours, they begin again and continue until after sundown.

Nesting: At Point Barrow, Alaska, according to John Murdoch (1885)-.= the black brant appear at the end of the main spring migrations of the waterfowl, but In no very considerable numbers, following the same track as the elders. A few remain to breed and are to be seen flying about the tundra during June. The nest is placed in rather marshy ground and Is a simple depression lined with down, with which the eggs are completely covered when the birds leave the nest. The birds sometimes begin to sit on 4 eggs and sometimes lay as many as 6.

MacFarlane (1891) sent to Washington 650 eggs of this brant from Fort Anderson, obtained by the Eskimos on the Arctic coast of Liverpool Bay, where it was exceedingly abundant, but he adds little to our scanty knowledge of its breeding habits. He wrote to Professor Baird, concerning a visit to an island in Liverpool Bay on July 4, 1864, as follows:

Beraicla brenta breeds on small islands on the small lakes occurring on this Island. It scoops a hole in the sand or turf composing the Island and lines it with down taken from the body of the female. They frequently nest In small parties, but a pair will sometimes select an island for themselves. Very few specimens were seen, though numerous nests containing broken eggs were met with; these had evidently been destroyed by white foxes, gulls. owls, and crows. But for the depredations committed by them we should have made a superb collection of eggs of ~Somaterics, Bernicla hutchins ii, Anser gambe Ut, Columbus articus, gulls, and terns. A great many nests of each and all of these species were found without eggs, their contents having been destroyed. The entire damage inflicted on the poor birds in one season must be enormous.

Rev. A. R. Hoare sent me a fine nest and 5 eggs of the black brant, taken at Tigara, near Point Hope, Alaska, in June 1916; it consisted of a great mass of down on a small low island in an extensive marsh; judging from the two photographs, which came with it, it must have been quite conspicuous. He found other nests sunken in moss and grass near the lakes out on the tundra. There is a nest and 5 eggs in the collection of Herbert Massey, Esq., taken by W. E. Snyder, at Admiralty Bay, Alaska, on June 16, 1898; the nest which consists of a large quantity of down, was in a depression in the dry tundra. I received 11 sets of black brant’s eggs, all consisting of 5 eggs, with the nests, from Point Barrow, Alaska, in 1916. The nests of this species are the most beautiful nests I have ever seen of any of the ducks and geese; they are great, soft, thick beds of pure, fluffy down, unmixed with the tundra rubbish so common in nests of other species; the down is a rich, handsome shade of “beuzo brown” or “deep brownish drab,” flecked with whitish; it must make a warm and luxurious blanket to cover the eggs.

Eggs: The black brant lays from 4 to 8 eggs, but 5 seems to be by far the commonest number. The prevailing shapes are elliptical ovate or elliptical oval; some are elongate ovate and a few are nearly ovate, rounded at the small end. The colors are “cartridge buff,” “ivory yellow,” “pale olive buff,” or “cream color.~~ The original color is often much obscured by stains or mottlings of various buffy or brownish shades, such as “cinnamon buff” or “ochraceous buff”; some of the eggs seem to be wholly of these darker shades; in others the stains have apparently worn off or been scratched off, exposing the original color. The shell is smooth and sometimes quite glossy.

The measurements of 107 eggs in the and the author’s collections average 71.1 by 47.4 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 79 by 47.5, 68 by 51, 68 by 45 and 75.5 by 43.5 millimeters.

Plumages: The downy young black brant is thickly covered with soft down in dark colors; the upper half of the head, including the lores, to a point a little below the eyes is “fuscous” or “benzo brown “; the chin is white; the back varies from “benzo brown” to “hair brown,” darkest on the rump; the flanks and chest shade from “hair brown” to “light drab,” fading off nearly to white on the belly and throat.

I have seen no specimens showing the change from the downy to the juvenal plumage. But a bird in the juvenal plumage, taken September 5, has the whole head, neck and breast plainly colored, “fuscous” to “fuscous black,” with only faint traces of the white markings on the neck; the feathers of the back are edged with grayish white or buffy white; the juvenal wing has broad, conspicuous, pure white edgings on the lesser and the greater coverts, the secondaries, and the tertials, broadest on the greater coverts; the belly and flanks are plain “fuscous,” with no barring.

Molting begins first on the head and neck; the white neck patches are often, but not always, conspicuous in October; they are well developed by spring. Aside from a partial molt of body and tail feathers there is not much change during the winter and spring. Young birds in May and June are still decidedly j uvenal, much worn and faded. At the following post-nuptial molt, when a little over a year old, the young bird undergoes a complete molt and becomes practically adult in plumage, with white neck patches, barred flanks, and plain dark wings without any light edgings.

Food: The black brant, like its eastern relative, is a decidedly maritime bird, living on salt water and feeding on the grassy mud flats; it never comes in to the uplands to feed. It seems to feed almost entirely on the leaves and roots of various marine grasses, mainly Zostera. In connection with its vegetable food it picks up various small mollusks, crustaceans, and other forms of marine animals. Mr. W. Leon Dawson (1909) says that they “not only dip but dive as well.”

Behavior: Doctor Nelson (1881) gives such a good account of the flight of the black brant that I quote it in full, as follows:

The flight of this species is peculiar among North American geese and bears a close resemblance to that of the eider and other species of heavy-bodied short-winged sea ducks. It has a parallel In the flight of the emperor goose except that the latter is a far heavier bird and, in consequence, the ~ving strokes are less rapid. In B. nigrican.s the strokes are short, energetic, and repeated with great rapidity, carrying the bird with a velocity far greater than that attained by any other goose with which I am acquainted, though probably its eastern prototype equals it In this respect.

But this is not the point upon which the mind rests when the birds are in view, for then the eye is held in involuntary admiration of the varied and graceful evolutions of the flocks, which have a protean ability to change their form without ever breaking the array or causing confusion. They are very gregarious, and two flocks almost invariably coalesce when they draw near each other. This frequently occurs until, as I have seen, it results in a single flock numbering between 400 and 500 birds. The usual size is considerably less, generally comprising from 20 to 50 or more, and it is rare to see less than 10 or 15 in a party. At times 4 or 5 individuals become detached, and until they can unite with a stronger party they fly irregularly about as though bewildered, continually uttering their harsh notes, and hurry eagerly away to join the first flock that comes in view. The order of flight is invariably a single rank, the birds moving side by side in a line at right angles to their course so that the entire strength of a flock is to be seen at a glance along its front, which at times covers several hundred yards. There is barely room enough between the individuals to allow a free wing stroke. Thus ranged, the flock seems governed by a single impulse, which sends it gliding along parallel and close to the ground, then, apparently without reason, careering 30 or 40 yards overhead, only to descend to its former level as suddenly as it was left; noxv it sways to one side and then to the other, while at short intervals swift undulations seem to run from one end of the ]ine to the other. These movements are repeatedly taking place; they are extremely interesting to observe but difficult, I fear, to convey an adequate Idea of in words.

The entire flock, consisting of perhaps over a hundred birds arranged in single line, is hurrying on, straight as an arrow, toward its destination, when, without warning, it suddenly makes a wide curving detour of several hundred yards, then resumes its original course only to frequently repeat the maneuver, but always with such unison that the closest scrutiny fails to reveal the least break or irregularity in the line; nor docs the front of the flock swerve, excepting an occasional slight obliquity which is corrected in a fexv seconds.

In addition to this horizontal movement is a still more interesting vertical one which often occurs at the same time as the other but generally by itself. A bird at either end of the flock rises or descends a few inches or several feet, as the case may be, and the movement is instantly followed in succession by every one of its companions till the extreme bird is reached and the entire flock is on the new level; or it may be that a bird near the middle of the line changes its position, when the motion extends in txvo directions at once. These latter changes are made so regularly and with such rapidity that the distance between the birds does not appear altered in the least, xvhile a motion exactly like a graceful undulation runs the length of the flock, lifting or depressing it to the level of the originator of the movement. These changes present to one’s eye as the flocks approach, keeping close to the ground, the appearance of a series of regular and swift waving motions such as pass along a pennant in a slight breeze.

The black brant never wings its way far up in the sky, as many other geese have the habit of doing, but keeps, as a rule, between 10 and 30 yards above the ground, with more flocks below these limits than above them.

Another idiosyncrasy of this bird is its marked distaste for passing over low ranges of hills which may cross its path. A striking case of this l~ shown here where a low spur runs out from the distant hills In the form of a grass-covered ridge projecting several miles into the flat marshy land. This ridge is from 50 to 200 feet above the surrounding country and bars the course of the black brant. So slight an obstacle as this is enough to cause at least 95 per cent of the flocks to turn abruptly from their path and pass along its base to round the end several miles beyond, and then continue their passage. In consequence of this habit it has been a regular practice for years for the hunters to occupy positions along the front of this ridge and deal destruction to the brant, which still hold as pertinaciously as ever to their right of way.

Doctor Nelson (1887) says:

While upon the ground or in flight they have a low guttural note something like the syllables gr-r-r-r-r, When alarmed this note, repeated often and with more emphasis, was the only cry heard.

~T Leon Dawson (1909) writes:

From the esthetic standpoint the most interesting phase of brant life is the mellow croak, cronk, crook, which the birds frequently emit whether in flight or at rest. From the back bay near Dungeness in April rises a babel like the spring offering of a giant frog-pond, a chorus of thousands of croaking voices, among which the thrilling basso of bullfrogs predominates.

Mr. Hoare writes me that, at Point Hope, the brant “suffer very much from the depredations of the gulls and hawks.” He “found many eggs scattered and broken.” He says:

This summer I witnessed a battle between a male brant and three gulls. The female brant was on the nest end did not move. The gulls kept returning to the attack and were very fierce. Usually they are cowardly. Eventually the brant drove them away, although badly mauled. I could not find it in my heart to disturb the female on the nest.

Fall: According to Mr. Murdoch (1885) the fall migration at Point Barrow begins early; he writes:

After the middle of August they begin to fly across the isthmus at Pergniak. coming west along the shore of Elson Bay, crossing to the ocean, and turning southwest along the coast. Whenever during August the wind is favorable for a flight of elders at Pergniak the brunt appear also. They, however, frequently turn before reaching the beach at Pergaink, follow down the line of lagoons and cross to the sea lower down the coast. The adults return first. No young of the year were taken till the end of August. During the first half of September, a guod many flocks cross the land at the inlets as well as at Pergulak, and are to be seen resting and feeding along the lagoons and pond holes. At this season they are very shy and hard to approach, and all are gone by the end of September.

Doctor Nelson (1887) says:

Some old whaling captains assured me that they have frequently seen these birds coming from over the ice to the north of Point Barrow in fall; and to the hardy navigators of these seas this is strong evidence in support of the theory that bodies of land lie beyond the impenetrable icy barrier which heads off their advance in that direction. Perhaps it was the droppings of this bird which we found on the dreary shores of Wrangel Island, when our party from the Corwin were the first human beings to break in upon its icy solitude. Mr. Dali writes that on his return to the coast of California in the latter part of October enormous flocks of these birds were seen about 100 miles offshore. They were flying south and frequently settled in the water near the ship.

Along much of the route followed by the brant in the spring in such enormous numbers, they are comparatively scarce in the fall, indicating that a different route is followed. In the spring, when open water shows first near the land, they would naturally follow the coast line; but in the fall, when Bering Sea is all open, they evidently prefer to migrate far from land, stopping to rest and perhaps to feed on the open sea.

Game: Grinnell, Bryant, and Storer (1918) say of the game qualities of this bird:

The black brant evades the devices of the hunter better than any other duck or goose. In very early days on San Diego Bay it was never seen to alight on the shore or near it. By 1875 it was almost impossible to obtain a shot at the bird from a boat, and even with a box sunk In the mud and concealed by seaweed a good bag was secured with difficulty. In 1883 a floating battery with plenty of decoys alone would enable a hunter to obtain this much-prized bird. A few years later many of the birds failed to put in an appearance at all off San Diego, probably going farther south, along the Mexican coast. Because of its habit of occasionally cutting across low sand spits to avoid a long detour in its flight, most of the hunting has been done from blinds situated beneath such a line of flight. On Tomales Bay hunters have sailed down on flocks with “blind boats,” when the birds were at rest during a fog, their whereabouts being disclosed by their “gabbling” noises.

The black sea brant has not been sold on the markets to any extent for a good many years. About 20 years ago consignments were shipped to San Francisco from Humboldt Bay, and the birds sold for as little as 25 cents each. Even the high price that the bird would bring at the present time does not attract it to the market because of the difficulty now attached to obtaining it.

Winter: The black brant winters abundantly on the Pacific coast from the Puget Sound region southward, living entirely on salt water, in the larger bays and channels. Mr. Dawson (1909) writes:

Black brants are the only geese one is quite sure of seeing from the deck of a steamboat on an average winter day on Puget Sound. While they have their favorite feeding grounds upon the mud flats and in shallow bays, they are widely distributed over the open water also, and their numbers during the spring migrations are such that not all other wild geese put together are to be mentioned in comparison. They sit the water in small companies; and although they are exceedingly wary in regard to rowboats, they often permit an approach on the part of steamers which is very gratifying to the student. An exaggerated use of their long wings as the birds get under way gives the heholder the impression of great weight: an impression which is not sustained In the hand, where the bird is seen to disappointingly light; all feathers, In fact, as compared xs-ith a chunky scoter, which does not equal it in extent of wing by a foot or more.

Mr. S. F. Rathbun has sent me the following notes in regard P. the black brant, as seen on the coast of Washington:

Some time during November the arrival of the black brant may be expected in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the lower Sound. During the winter months however, it will be found in all the waters of Puget Sound, but not so cornmonly as In the first mentioned localities, for it appears to prefer the open waters, in such at times assembling in large flocks. And this statement may he qualified to an extent, for there are certain spots to which the bird seen’s partial.

Ia and near the eastern end of the strait lies Smiths Island, this being an abrupt bit of land not many acres in extent Hunning eastward from the island is a long ledge or spit almost a mile in length, an extension as it were, parts of which are exposed only at the times of low tides, and to the north is a wide expanse of water having numerous keipheds. This locality is a much favored one by the black brant, and here almost any time during the winter and early spring months it may be seen in large numbers. Another place where it may invariably he found is in the general vicinity of Dungeness on the strait, and here also kelpbeds exist, for this bird appears to favor the spots where this marine growth is to be found. These localities are favorite ones in which to hunt this bird, but even so this hunting involves at times considerable work and exposure, to say nothing of the time required. One never knows what character of weather will be experienced, for sometimes a number of days will elapse before one arrives on which sport can be had. As a rule the black brant is an easy bird to decoy, and when hunting it one needs but little concealment. Often the blind used is simply some log or uprooted tree that has drifted ashore, over which will be draped in a careless way seaweed or kelp, or both, the flotsam of the beach. On the windward side the decoys are placed in the water, to be changed from time to time according to the run of tide. If the brant are flying, ordinarily but little time will elapse before some passing flock sights the decoys and almost invariably comes to them. And frequently such birds that escape the fire will: as if governed by mere fatuousness: return to be shot at again, sometimes the result being that the entire flock is killed.

This species appears to be restricted to the salt water, and its food being in the nature of marine vegetation and the smaller forms of marine life, gives somewhat of a clue to the reason why it exhibits the partiality shown for the vicinity of the beds of kelp.

Breeding range: Arctic coasts of western North America and eastern Asia. East on Arctic islands to about 1100 or 1000 W. (Melville Island, Banks Land, etc.) and on the mainland to Coronation Gulf. Westward along the coasts of Canada, Alaska, and Siberia to the Taimyr Peninsula and New Siberia Islands. North to Banks Land (Cape Kellett, etc.) and Melville Island (Winter Harbor). Probably intergrades with berniela at the eastern and the western limits of its range.

Winter range: Mainly on the Pacific coast of the United States. North to British Columbia (Comox, Vancouver Island). South to Lower California (San Quintin Bay and Cerros Island). Inland in Oregon (Maiheur and Kiamath Lakes) and in Nevada (Pyramid and Washoe Lakes). On the Asiatic coast south to northern China (Tsingtau) and Japan.

Spring migration: -Main flight is northward along the coast, but some fly overland across Alaska to the Mackenzie Valley. Early dates of arrival in Alaska: St. Michael, May 5; Point Hope, May 15; Wainwright, May 24; Demarcation Point, May 20; Point Barrow, June 5. Late dates of departure: Lower California, Cerros Island, May 10; California, San Francisco, April 24; Alaska, Yukon delta, May 22.

Fall migration: A reversal of the spring routes. Migrants pass through Bering Sea during the last half of September and first half of October and reach California in October and November. Latest date for Point Barrow is September 21, and Kolyma River, Siberia, October 5.

Casual records: Has wandered east to New York (3 records), Massachusetts (Chatham, spring of 1883 and April 15, 1902), and New Jersey (Great Egg Harbor, January, 1846, and Long Beach,. April 5, 1877); and from the Pacific coast as far inland as Utah (Bear River). Accidental on the Hawaiian Islands (Maui).

Egg dates: Arctic Canada: Fifteen records, June 8 to July 7; nine records, June 20 to July 6. Alaska: Eleven records, June 15 to July 4; six records, June 22 to 26.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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