Brant - From the Arctic to Cape May

Posted 01/25/06
by Paul Kerlinger
Outdoors Columnist

CAPE MAY, N.J. –When more than 100 Brant (sometimes called Brant or Brent Geese) started arriving on a daily basis at a farm field on Bayshore and New England Roads, I didn’t know what to make of it.

Though I had seen them feeding on grassy areas of ballfields and parks along the barrier islands, I had never seen them feeding en masse in a farm field. That behavior is more typical of Snow and Canada Geese.

Salt Marsh Geese

Brant are probably the most common goose of the Atlantic salt marshes in New Jersey.

They are smaller than Canada and Snow Geese and they appear slightly darker in flight. They also have a hoarser sounding call, which can be mistaken for Canada Geese if you aren’t careful.

You can see them practically anywhere up and down the Jersey shore, just behind the barrier islands. These marshes have been a traditional wintering area for these geese for millennia.

Arctic Natives

Brant typically nest in the high arctic, mostly north of Hudson Bay, but they will nest as far north as northern Greenland.

Each year they fly some 1,700 miles, nearly nonstop, to the New Jersey shore.

Normally, they eat eelgrass or sea lettuce, but in recent years they have adapted to feeding on grasses and other vegetation.

It's no doubt that young grasses, clovers and other tender vegetation growing in that Bayshore Road bean field is what's drawing the Brant there daily for lunch and dinner.

Life is tough for these birds. They have to dodge predators, find food, survive in cold winter weather and travel thousands of miles to get back to their Artic home.

Where to See them

If you want to see these birds in Cape May right now, simply drive north on Bayshore Road and look for them in the large field near New England Road.

You will know immediately if the birds are present. Don’t get out of your car and don’t stop quickly or you will spook them. Drive slowly and stop gradually (pulling out of the roadway to avoid having an accident).

As you watch them, keep in mind that, by May or June, those same birds will be nesting on the Artic tundra.

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