Brooklyn Bird Watch: Brant Goose

Professional bird photographer Heather Wolf, author of “Birding at the Bridge,” has taken many great bird photos featured in “Brooklyn Bird Watch.” These birds are not necessarily birds native to Brooklyn Bridge Park, as many of them are migratory birds, or in layman’s terms, just passing through.

In a very colorful photo today we are featuring the Brant Goose as it forages, probably for its favorite food, eelgrass. This photo was taken in March when it’s still chilly and windy along the Brooklyn waterfronts, but to a migrating Brant, it probably felt like summer. They prefer to breed and raise their young in the Arctic regions, especially in the extreme northernmost parts of Canada, around the Northwest passages just left of Greenland on the map. 

These birds are tough. As the Audubon Guide to North American Birds notes: “No other geese will nest as far north as the Brant, and few migrate as far.” In their preferred habitat, the average temperature is 38 degrees Fahrenheit with 85% humidity. Traveling across great land areas or the open ocean they fly at an altitude of several thousand feet. 

According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Cool Facts, “The severe winter of 1976–1977 in eastern North America froze Atlantic Brant out of their traditional marsh and lagoon habitats for several months. Some Brant compensated by moving inland from estuaries onto farm fields, lawns, and golf courses, to feed on grasses not normally part of their diet. This behavior is still seen some 40 years later, as eastern Brant still forage inland from New York to Virginia.” 

Don’t ask why a bird would prefer to breed and raise their young in the Arctic, although you might ask why they fly south to forage along the Atlantic Coast, and specifically, Brooklyn. Well, the website may explain the basics of that: In the Resolute Bay area, where they live, “the cold season lasts for 4.3 months, from November 26 to April 26, with an average daily high temperature of below -7 degrees F. The coldest day of the year is February 23, with an average low temperature of -30 degrees F and high of -20 degrees F”. It makes sense. If they didn’t migrate, one imagines, they might have to spend the warmer months thawing, instead of breeding and raising their young. 

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Over on the west coast of the continent, in Vancouver, British Columbia, according to the website Vancouver, a subspecies of this same goose, the Black Brant, is called The Little Sea Goose, and has a festival named after it. To the people in the Vancouver area, the goose symbolizes the lure of “distant places and amazing journeys.” It migrates as far south as the coastal lagoons of Western Mexico and when it’s time to head back north to breed, they move back up the coast as thousands of geese descend on the coastal beaches and flats of British Columbia. Two communities along the eastern shores of Vancouver Island host a Brant Festival every April. The geese stay about a month while they feed, rest, and keep a watchful eye out for the Bald Eagles. “Then, group by group, they lift off. Just a few each day, they push on for the next leg of their long annual journey.”

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