A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Brant is common in Sonoma County in the winter months, particularly at Bodega Bay, where hundreds may be present at a time. Brants begin to arrive in the county usually in late October and continue arriving through November, mostly staying through March-June, but a few linger over the summer. Least likely to be encountered in June. May be in small flocks or groups, but it's fairly common in the winter months to see as many as three- to five-hundred Brants at a time at Bodega Bay. Brant is a marine goose. It usually sticks to ocean coasts, saltwater bays, and estuaries. Also known as Brent Goose.   

Brant is the only small, dark goose normally present in the county. Identified by its black head and neck with white, streaked, vaguely triangular patches on either side of the neck (in the Pacific subspecies, Branta bernicla nigricans or "Black Brant," these nearly connect at the front to form a collar; the white patches are absent in juvenile birds of all subspecies); black legs, dark greyish-brown back and tail feathers but with a white rump patch and white at the vent. The bird in the photo above is probably a Black Brant that looks rather brown mostly because of faded plumage. Black Brant, may also be referred to as Pacific Brent Goose. Some sources recognize three subspecies of Brant: The Atlantic or Pale-bellied Brant or American Brant (Branta bernicla hrota); the Dark-bellied Brant (Branta bernicla bernicla); and the Black Brant or Pacific Brant or Pacific Brent Goose (Branta bernicla nigricans). Some suggest these should be distinct species, but that remains controversial. Asian populations were once considered a separate group as well (Branta bernicla orientalis), but that view is no longer current. The recognized groups may in some places interbreed, creating individuals with intermediate characteristics. When in doubt, you can call it a Brant and leave it at that.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 28

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 57

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 24

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 20

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 28-29

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 58

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 74

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 35

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 46

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 1-2

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 4

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 62

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 18, 22

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 40

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 71

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 9

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 43

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Brant



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Brant, Bodega Bay, August 23, 2011


Branta bernicla

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated May 30, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County