Nov 27 2010
Here’s a beautiful picture of a bird we rarely see in southwestern Pennsylvania. When we do it’s alone, flown off course while its companions migrated to the Atlantic coast on a route far north of Pittsburgh.
This is a brant, a small goose that nests in the Arctic and winters at the coast. It resembles a Canada goose except that it’s much smaller, has a stubby bill, the shortest tail of any goose, and a dark head, neck and chest.
Sometimes brant, especially lone birds, hang out with Canada geese. This may have saved them from extinction. In the early 1930’s the brant population declined dangerously because the only food they ate — a marine plant called eelgrass — was in short supply. Then they changed their diet to include grass and grain from agricultural fields, a habit they may have learned from Canada geese. But they still prefer eelgrass.
If you want to see a lot of brant, visit the coast in winter. Otherwise the only reliable place to find them in Pennsylvania is at Lake Erie during their October-November migration.
Bobby Greene photographed this bird on Lake Erie at Conneaut, Ohio.
(photo by Bobby Greene)