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Atlantic Brant Migration and Breeding Ecology Study 2020 Update


December 13, 2019
Updated January 10, 2020
Videos added June 29, 2020 and January 14, 2021

Videos: Atlantic Brant Migration and Breeding Ecology Study and 2020 Atlantic Brant Fall Migration

The NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife is in the middle of two multi-year Atlantic brant migration and breeding ecology studies collaborating with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Canadian Wildlife Service, and University of Missouri, School of Natural Resources.

Atlantic brant are a small goose species that breeds in arctic Canada and winters in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. About 90% of the entire population winters along the coast of New Jersey and New York.

During the past two years, over 1,700 brant have been tagged with three different types of auxillary markers in addition to "standard" metal leg bands. Please note that all brant with auxillary markers will also have a standard metal band. Help from the public reporting these encounters is critical to the success of this project. You may encounter these types of markers:

1. Backpack transmitters. Some birds carry these units (Figure 1). Note that many, but not all, brant with backpack transmitters may also be wearing colored leg bands.

2. Colored leg band with geolocator. The geolocators are clear, plastic electronics devices about the size of a "fat nickel" and are attached to a red and white plastic leg band with a plastic cable lock tie (Figure 2).

If you shoot or find a dead brant with a backpack transmitter or geolocator: Please contact Ted Nichols at 609-628-3218 or by e-mail to return the device(s). In order to obtain any previous location data from a geolocator, we need to get the device in hand. Hunters who want to retain a geolocator or transmitter as a "keepsake" will be given the unit back or provided with a "dummy" unit.

If you see a live brant with a red and white band and geolocator: These bands are red with white and have 3 codes; the first code is a letter, followed by 2 numbers. Please report these observations to US Bird Banding Lab at REPORTBAND.GOV.

3. Colored plastic leg bands. Over 1,000 brant are marked with various colored bands with black or white letters and numbers with only one letter or number on each band (Figure 3). These birds have one band on each leg. Bands on each leg may be the same or different colors.
If you shoot or find a dead brant with a colored marker, please report it to the US Bird Banding Lab at REPORTBAND.GOV.

If you see a live brant with a colored leg band: Note that there is one band on each leg and it is critical in the report that you differentiate which marker color and code is on which leg (right or left). Please report these observations to US Bird Banding Lab at REPORTBAND.GOV.

4. "Standard" metal leg band. Brant with "standard" metal leg bands that are shot or found dead should be reported to US Bird Banding Lab at REPORTBAND.GOV. On the rare occasion that these codes can be read on live birds, they can also be reported to the Lab.

Band "Targeting" by Waterfowl Hunters

A very small proportion of waterfowl are marked with bands in North America. As such, standard leg bands and especially auxiliary markers (for example, neck or tarsal bands) are often viewed as "trophies" by waterfowl hunters and are sometimes "targeted". Although the bands used in this study are generally small and difficult to see in a hunting situation, hunters are urged to not specifically "target" Atlantic brant marked in this study.

For a better understanding of the band "targeting" issue, and how it can affect waterfowl management, please check out Episode 34 - Band Reporting and Band Targeting, by Dr. Mark Lindberg at the University of Alaska on Ducks Unlimited web site:
Read the transcript

Atlantic brant with GPS backpack transmitter
Figure 1. Atlantic brant with GPS backpack transmitter.
  Atlantic brant with tarsal band and geolocator.
Figure 2. Atlantic brant with tarsal band and geolocator.
  Brant with colored plastic leg band
Figure 3. Atlantic brant with colored plastic leg band.

Study Objectives

These studies are deploying these various markers on both the wintering grounds in New Jersey and New York as well as the breeding grounds in Nunavut, Canada. Marked birds will provide insight into the following Atlantic brant research questions:

  • How faithful are brant to wintering areas within and among years?
  • What is the breeding propensity of Atlantic brant?
  • How does annual breeding propensity vary with annual arctic summer weather conditions?
  • What is the age at first breeding for Atlantic brant?
  • Compare breeding propensity estimates from geolocators with recruitment estimates from color-banded birds with young to develop a more complete measure of annual productivity.
  • How faithful are brant to breeding areas among years?
  • Do brant molting at the locations currently marked during the summer period use the same wintering and/or migration areas? Do they have the same migration timing?
  • Are the current Atlantic brant preseason (summer) banding stations adequately or reasonably reflect the wintering distribution of brant?
  • What are the key staging areas used during spring and fall migration and is there annual variation in these stopover sites?
  • Is there a relationship between spring phenology, timing of nesting, and timing and rates of movement?
  • During winter, are brant distributed in the same areas as the Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey? If so, the survey is representative of the wintering population; if not, adjustments to the geographic coverage of the MWS need to be made.
We appreciate the cooperation and interest from the public.
Brant on NJ beach
Atlantic brant were captured for marking on the wintering grounds in New Jersey and New York by luring them to rocket nets using decoys.
Click to enlarge
Captured brant
Molting, flightless Atlantic brant were also captured on their arctic breeding grounds during August in Baffin Island (pictured), Nunavut, Canada. Note study birds with transmitters and tarsal bands with geolocators to far right and in center of photo. Atlantic brant goslings in foreground.
Click to enlarge
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Last Updated: January 14, 2021