Jun 28, 2017

Brant Geese

Brant Geese (Branta Bernicla)

Brant can be distinguished from Canada Geese by their smaller size; dark brown body with a black head and shorter neck and white collar. West coast birds have a darker belly than those of the east and were once considered a separate species. Unlike the honking calls of Canada Geese, the Brant call is a low, guttural "ruk-ruk" sound.

Brant breed in the north, in coastal Alaska and the Canadian Arctic on tundra and coastal islands. During winter, they are found along the Pacific coast and further south into Baja California, Mexico. Brant geese form long-term, monogamous pair-bonds and family units migrate together.

Brant rarely stray far from salt water and do not come inland to graze in fields; instead they spend winters in large flocks feeding on coastal mudflats. When Brant arrive in Parksville-Qualicum during spring, they need to rest and feed on the abundant eelgrass, sea lettuce and herring roe to fuel up for the next northward migration. During migration, Brant fly in irregular bunches rather than in lines like other geese.

The biggest threat to Brant Geese is the loss and degradation of winter habitats due to human development, encroachment and disturbance. You can help to limit disturbance on the beaches by observing the signs for the seasonal no dog restriction at Parksville Bay, Columbia Beach and Little Qualicum Estuary. Thank you!

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Brant Migration Cycle

• January - northward journey to breeding areas begins. Spring migrants work their way up the coast, stopping at bays and estuaries to rest and refuel. Adult pairs are first to leave the wintering grounds, followed by non-breeders and last year’s young.
• March - another wildlife spectacle, the Pacific herring spawn, coincides with the arrival of the Brant in the Parksville-Qualicum Beach region. Female herring deposit clear, sticky eggs on eelgrass, kelp or other marine vegetation in shallow intertidal areas. Herring roe is an abundant energy source at a critical time during migration.
• April/May - Brant make their way to Izembek Lagoon, Alaska and then to breeding grounds.
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• May - arrival at Arctic breeding grounds. With a small window after ice melt and before bad weather, already paired Brant waste no time in selecting a nest site. Nests are built from sedges, grasses and down plucked from female’s breast.
• August - family groups begin their journey to the Alaska Peninsula.
• September - Brant numbers peak when nearly all are at Izembek Lagoon, Alaska where they feed on extensive eelgrass beds.
• October/November - most leave Alaska on a trans-oceanic flight which brings them to their wintering grounds in the lagoons and estuaries of Baja California.

Herring Spawn

In March, coinciding with the arrival of Brant to our region, the annual herring spawn is one of the natural world’s most spectacular events. These small, silvery fish fuel marine food webs and are critical to the diet of many marine birds, mammals and fishes. In addition to wildlife, herring have sustained coastal First Nations communities for thousands of years.

Each year, herring migrate from offshore waters to more sheltered bays and estuaries to spawn. Male herring release milt (containing sperm) which gives the water a turquoise hue. Female herring lay eggs upon the intertidal and nearshore vegetation, which often includes eelgrass and kelp.

During the Pacific herring spawn, large flocks of Brant can be found close to shore feeding on herring eggs, an important energy source as they put on fat to complete their journey to the Arctic breeding grounds. Brant need access to quiet bays, beaches and estuaries so they can rest and fuel up to continue their long northward migration.

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For more information on Brant Geese and the annual Brant Festival please see www.brantfestival.bc.ca

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