Category   Birds of BC: Black Brant Goose
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Black Brant Goose
Branta bernicla

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 by people.

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.

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