Bird Watcher's General Store

“A Cape Cod Destination Icon For 40 Years”

When It’s Not a Canada Goose

Dear Bird Folks,

The other day I was at Boat Meadow Beach in Eastham and I saw a flock of Canadian geese just off shore. However, when I looked at the flock through my binoculars, the geese seemed much smaller than Canadian geese. Is there such a thing as mini Canadian geese?”

– Sally, Danbury, CT


Hey Sally

Let’s talk about this “Canadian” geese name first. The name of the birds is “Canada” goose, repeat after me, Canada goose, Canada goose. There is no such name as Canadian goose, you must be thinking of bacon. I know it seems picky and most people from Canada don’t seem to mind if you say it wrong, but the geese hate it. Check any bird book, even the bad ones that you bought on sale, and it will say Canada geese. Honest.

Now, as far as you seeing miniature geese through your binoculars: Hmmm. Are you sure that you weren’t looking through the wrong end of your binoculars? I do that sometimes, it’s kind of fun. It makes everything seem smaller and far away. It’s a good way to make you feel like you have a big yard and your neighbors are miles away.

Anyhow, Sal, the birds that you saw are called Brant. That’s it, just Brant. And not Canadian Brant, either. Brant are very local and not nearly as widespread as Canada geese. They only winter here. A good place to look for them is along the shores or Cape Cod Bay. They are indeed much smaller than most of the Canada geese we see around here and are distinguished from them by the lack of the white cheek patch that geese have. A Brant’s face is solid black, but it does have a white “necklace” on its neck.

The Brant is a saltwater goose. You won’t find them on freshwater ponds or inland lakes. And you’ll never see a Brant on a golf course, they have a life. Back in the 1930’s Brant were all but wiped out along the Atlantic coast because their major food source, eel grass, was killed off by blight. Once the Feds stopped people from shooting them and the remaining Brant learned to eat other things, the population slowly began to recover. However, the population of Brant is still fairly low and we are lucky to have them here on Cape Cod.

So the next time you visit a bay beach, bring the eel grass that you had left over from your dinner the night before. The Brant will love it.