Pacific Brent - Branta nigricans

The Pacific Brent or Brant as referred to in North America is one of the smallest geese and the Pacific has adapted well to captivity and while it is not considered easy to breed it is certainly the easiest and most reliable breeder of the Brent in captivity. There are now considered to be three distinct races, nigricans (Pacific), hrota (Light-bellied) and bernicla (Dark bellied or Russian), their respective breeding grounds cir-cum navigate the globe in the high arctic and they winter in coastal areas of North America, Europe and significantly smaller numbers in Korea and Japan. Brent really are sea geese and while in Europe they have adapted to feeding on farmland during the winter they are never found far from the sea. They are very gregarious, wintering in large flocks and breeding in colonies although the territories formed by pairs within the colony are defended vigorously.

Considering that Brent are such a gregarious species it is surprising how well they can also adapt to being kept as a pair in captivity and it is often the collections that only maintain a pair that have most success at breeding them. Being such a marine species in the wild it is surprising how well they have adapted to captivity and they are very easy to maintain and will happily feed on wheat and pellets but really appreciate access to grazing. The speed at which they graze is really quite something to observe and they will always chose to feed on the shortest grass and will graze favoured areas until devoid of grass. While this is not necessarily a problem it does let weed species establish that may not be desired and if this is the case it is relatively easy to temporarily fence heavily grazed patches forcing the Brent to graze on areas of longer grass. Grass responds very well to grazing by geese and with minimal management it is possible to have the Brent create a sword that the local bowling green would be proud of.

Brent are very communicative but unlike many geese they do not have any really loud repetitive calls that may upset the neighbours. Instead they have a repertoire of quiet communication that is easy on the ear. This does not mean that they do not call and during the breeding season they will make more noise when defending their territory but this is still not at the level often associated with geese. Breeding Brent can require patience, they can breed when they are two years old but it often takes longer. The pair bond needs to be strong to bring the female into laying condition and if the male does not defend a territory the female is unlikely to lay. My male that was reared with a broody bantam was fifteen years old before I managed to get him sufficiently well paired to a goose and defend a territory robustly enough to convince the goose to lay.

Brent breed in the high arctic and when kept in captivity at lower latitudes they rarely come into breeding condition until the days have really lengthened. Consequently it is unusual that Brent will lay until May and never give up hope of them laying until they drop their primary feathers usually towards the end of June. Their choice of nesting site can be quite variable but again because they have evolved to breed in the arctic where cover is very limited they regularly nest in quite exposed areas, regularly choosing to nest against a log of wood or in amongst some low growing plants. During the breeding season Brent can become quite aggressive to other waterfowl but they usually only guard a relatively small area around the prospective nest site. Unusually Brent are a species that can look nothing like laying one day and the next day the gander can be defending a potential site and the female can look heavy and wll construct a small scrape in the ground. Once this has happened you can usually be assured that laying will commence within a day or two. The greatest risk comes when the first egg is laid, it is not usually covered and the adults will move away from the nest site leaving the egg very vulnerable to predation from winged vermin, crows, magpies etc. I would always recommend watching for the first egg and picking it up and replacing it with a dummy egg, if the first egg is predated I would also put a dummy egg in the nest but this will almost certainly be to late and the female will be unlikely to continue laying and you may have to wait until the next season for another chance. Brent do not lay on consecutive days, in fact they may even take two days between eggs. Once the second egg is laid the female will usually cover the eggs with a neat layer of down, they regularly use no other nesting material. The eggs are frequently deposited in a bare scrape and then only covered with down. Once the second egg is laid defence of the nest is usually very intense and at this stage the first egg can usually be replaced with little risk of winged predators getting anywhere near the nest. Brent usually only lay very small clutches and the female will often spend most of the time on the nest once the second egg is laid but presumably does not actually start incubation because the hatch is always synchronised. The clutch will usually consist of three to five eggs, four being the norm. The eggs are quite elongated and a dull chalky white and interestingly each egg laid seems to be a little larger than the preceding egg, it is usually quite easy to look at the clutch and see the order of laying.

Brent do not easily double clutch and I would never try this unless the pair had reared young in a previous season. They are reliable brooders and make fantastic parents. The eggs have a very short incubation of twenty three days, towards the end of incubation I check the nest daily, the female is not likely to get off the nest. You can just gently partially raise her off the nest so that you can see if the eggs are piped or indeed have hatched. Once the eggs have hatched and the gander is aware that this has happened I usually put a small circle of wire netting around the pair and their nest site and provide them with a shallow drinker and a tray of crumbs. For the first two days young Brent are not very stable on their feet and by confining the adults you can be sure that the goslings are never far from food and water. When the goslings are two or three days old you can either give them access to the whole enclosure or you can move them to a small pen where they can more easily be managed and the adults are restricted from chasing any other waterfowl that venture near.

Like many species of geese Brent very easily imprint on what ever they consider to be mother and because Brent produce small clutches there is often a risk if you chose to artificially hatch and rear Brent that you only have one or two goslings and when this is the situation the imprinting becomes even more of an issue and it can be quite difficult to get Brent reared in this way to form strong enough pair bonds as they mature to breed. Consequently if you are looking for potential breeding stock always try and obtain a pair that have been parent reared, they will form a much stronger pair bond and will ultimately be far more successful. It goes without saying that you should also try and ensure that you start with an unrelated pair.

When Brent breed for the first time the eggs may not be fertile, if this is the case try and ensure that the goose hatches something, other goose eggs are preferable but even some ducklings will be better than nothing. Once the gander sees young with the goose it will really strengthen the pair-bond and fertility is less likely to be a problem in subsequent seasons. Until the Brent gander has seen his own goose with young it is well worth trying to ensure that the gander does not see any other duck or goose in the collection walking around with a brood. The gander can easily be distracted and will leave his own goose in favour of an instant family. The management of Brent is not entirely straight forward but once the pair have had success at rearing a brood they become straight forward to manage in subsequent years and all the effort will seem well worth while.

Black Brant Nest


Incubating Pacific Brent



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Pacific Brent

Norfolk Wildfowl

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