| Black Brant
The Black Brant
is the western North American subspecies of the Brant, (Branta bernicla).
Black Brant are truly international travellers. They nest in Arctic
coastal lowlands, in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Never venturing
far from salt water, they migrate south to winter. Numbers formerly
wintered in coastal British Columbia, but it is believed this changed
as a result of active market hunting for the Christmas table. Now,
only a few stay in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), and Boundary
Bay on the Lower Mainland, the vast majority travelling to Baja,
California and the coastal lagoons of Western Mexico.
The Black Brant is a small sea goose that is very susceptible to
disturbance. Up until the late 1940s, Brant were a common winter
visitor in the Strait of Georgia north to at least the Courtenay-Comox
area. Hunting of these wintering populations is believed to have
caused their extirpation from all but one area. Today, a small overwintering
population of about 300 birds may be found in Boundary Bay near
Vancouver. In the late 1950s, their main wintering population dramatically
shifted from California to Mexico as a result of the disturbance
Along the British Columbia coast, Black Brant occur chiefly as spring
migrants. They are widely distributed along the Strait of Georgia
from late February to mid-May. Smaller numbers may be found in the
Tofino area, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and on Haida
Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands. Areas of concentration
include Boundary Bay and the east coast of Vancouver Island from
Victoria to Campbell River, particularly the Parksville-Qualicum
Beach and Comox Harbour areas.
Brant on the Pacific coast have been counted regularly during annual
mid-winter surveys. These counts suggest that numbers have declined
more than 30% since the 1960s. Sporadic aerial surveys made during
the annual spring migration through the Strait of Georgia seem to
reflect this decline.
The distribution of Brant in the Strait of Georgia is closely related
to the distribution of their preferred foods: eel grass and seaweeds.
Pacific herring spawn in March and April, and the roe provides a
rich source of protein for the geese. The northward migrating Brant
use the estuaries, beaches, bays and spits in the Strait to feed,
rest and carry out their important maintenance activities such as
preening and bathing. It is on these staging areas that the geese
accumulate the necessary energy reserves that allow them to continue
their migration to their Alaskan breeding grounds.
These foreshore habitats provide abundant food in areas that are
relatively free from disturbance. Today, however, the rapid growth
of the human population in coastal communities in the Strait of
Georgia is cause for concern because of the potential for increased
disturbance. If the disturbance becomes too great, the Brant could
be forced into less favourable habitat which might affect their
ability to put on the required fat reserves they need. Recent studies
in the Parksville-Qualicum Beach area show that human disturbance
is now approaching disturbance levels they receive from their natural
predators such as the Bald Eagle.