Birds - Brant
( Originally Published 1904 )
Called also: BRENT; BRANT GOOSE; AND BARNACLE GOOSE Length—26 inches.
Male and Female—Head, neck, throat, and upper breast and shoulders blackish, with a small patch of white streaks on either side of neck, sometimes also on chin and lower eyelid; back brownish gray, the feathers margined with ashy; lower breast ashy gray, ending abruptly at the line of black of the upper breast; sides dark, but fading into white underneath; much white around tail; bill and feet black. Female smaller than gander. Immature birds have no white patch on neck, and plumage above and below is barred or waved with reddish brown.
Range—Arctic sea, nesting within the Arctic Circle, to the Carolinas in winter. Most common on Atlantic coast; rare in the interior.
Season—Winter resident, or spring and autumn migrant in the United States.
Flocks of brants continue to fly southward down the Atlantic coast from October until December, some alighting on muddy flats around the estuaries of rivers and creeks, on sand bars and in shallow inlets, to feed on eel-grass and other marine plants; but the majority passing rapidly by the shores of Canada and our northern states. High flyers, sea lovers, they keep well out from land during the migrations rather than follow the coast line, if any distance may be saved by a bee line from point to point.
It is only in hazy weather that they fly low. A reconnoitre by the veterans must first be made after the confused mass of hoarse gabblers rises from the feeding grounds; but after this spiral soaring has ended and the birds are once fairly started on their journey, neither pause nor uncertainty may be detected in their steady flight. They fly in more compact bodies than the long-drawn-out wedges of Canada geese; no leader appears to direct their course, yet the mass moves as one bird, slowly and sedately. Some one has compared the trumpet-like sounds made by a flock of brants with the noise of a pack of fox-hounds in full cry. Occasionally these geese are found in the interior, for all their strong maritime preferences; but usually it is the black brant that is mistaken for them there and on the Pacific slope.
On Long Island and southward these dusky waders walk about at low tide, tearing up eel-grass by the roots when they enter the marshes to feed in gabbling, honking companies. Watched from a distance—for a close approach, no matter how stealthy, frightens these wary birds to wing—they appear rather sluggish and move heavily over the mud flats, nipping every plant that grows in their path. Youthful gunners constantly mistake them for some of the larger sea-ducks and wonder that they do not dive for food. Brants never dive unless wounded. While the tide is out they feed constantly, stopping only to gabble and gossip, and quarrel from excessive greediness, with the result of being too heavy and lazy with much gorging to fly out to sea when the tide comes in and lifts them off their feet. After sundown they go streaming in long lines out to deep, open water to pass the night afloat. Certain localities become favorite stopping places for these birds of passage, and they return to them year after year, unless harassed by the gunners beyond en-durance; but such resorts become rarer every season. In early winter the young of the year are as delicious a game bird as finds its way to the gunner's pouch; but old birds taken in the spring migration defy the inroads of any tooth not canine.
Because it nests so very far to the north, the life history of this goose is still incomplete. According to Saunders, the nest is composed of grasses, moss, etc., lined with down and made on the ground. Four smooth and creamy white eggs fill it.
The Black Brant (Branta nigricans), a name sometimes applied to the white-fronted goose to distinguish it from the white brant or snow goose, is the western representative of the preceding species and of only casual occurrence on the Atlantic coast. It may be readily distinguished from its ally by its darker under parts and the white markings on the front as well as the sides of its neck. Their habits are almost identical. Both these "barnacle geese" take their name, not from their fondness for the little crustacean, for they are almost vegetarians, but from the absurd fable that they grew out of barnacles attached to wood in the sea. Some etymologists claim that the word brant is derived from the Italian word branta, coming from branca, a branch; but these geese have nothing to do with branches, unlike the Canada geese that sometimes nest in trees; and we may more confidently accept Dr. Coues's statement that brant means simply burnt, the dark color of the goose suggesting its having been charred.