Brant Goose


Branta bernicla

Field Markings:         25 inches long. Dark colored with a black head, neck, and breast. White patch on both sides of the neck, just under the throat. Underside of the body is gray, lightening to white at the tail, with a black bar at its end. Juveniles have a bold white edge to the wing feathers, giving them a wave pattern across their back.

Habitat: Salt-water inlets, estuaries

Seasonal Appearance: Winter, early spring

Sensitivity to Human Action






Distinguishing Features and Behaviors:

            The brant goose is a small, dark, sea goose about the size of a mallard duck. The goose’s genus name is derived from the German word “brand” meaning burnt, referring to its dark feathers, and the species name bernicla is from the Norwegian word for barnacle. An ancient legend associated with brant is that the geese hatch from barnacles on driftwood.

            Brant fly with rapid wing beats on long and pointed wings. Flocks of brant fly low in ragged formation. The flocks do not form a “V” shape as some geese do; instead they bunch together or form long wavy lines. Brant travel along the coast and are usually found on sandy peninsulas and bars. They generally avoid migrating over land. They return to the same nesting site year after year as many birds are “preprogrammed” to do. Brant are monogamous, forming lifelong pair bonds at three years of age.

            The main food sources for brant are eelgrass, aquatic plants, moss, lichen, crustaceans, mollusks, worms, insects, and some grain. They feed in a manner similar to ducks, dipping from the water’s surface and dabbling in the submerged vegetation. When feeding, they have sentinel guards watching for possible predators.

            To survive in a strictly salt-water environment, brant have adaptations that make them true sea geese. Salt glands located at the base of the bill filter the excess salt from the blood stream, concentrate it, and excrete the salt out through the bill. This allows the birds to drink sea water and eat salt-water vegetation without becoming dehydrated.

Relationship to People:

            Brant are dependent on their main food source, eelgrass, which provides 80 percent of their winter diet. Recent brant population declines in Narragansett Bay have been attributed to a decline in Bay eelgrass. The Atlantic brant population was decimated in the 1930s and 1940 when eelgrass beds were killed by disease. The population has not returned to their former numbers even though some geese have adapted to eating sea lettuce and other vegetation.