Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Brant - Branta bernicla
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General Comments The Brant was formerly a common to locally abundant winter visitor to the northern coastal area of the state, but around 1929 an eelgrass blight greatly impacted the numbers wintering in North Carolina. Numbers never truly recovered in our state; however, it is a regular winter resident to a very small area along the coast, and thus is rare along most of the coast, especially the southern half. Since about 2015, numbers of Brants in this region have declined even further, and it can be easily missed on ferry rides nowadays. It favors very shallow waters in bays and sounds; it is seldom found on fresh water. Most birds winter in the southern portion of Pamlico Sound, such as around Hatteras and Ocracoke inlets, and southward toward Core Sound. It seldom strays inland.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S3N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident along the coast. Uncommon to formerly very locally common in coastal bays. Practically the entire wintering population occurs in a narrow band in southern Pamlico Sound and in Core Sound, from Hatteras Inlet southwest to central Core Sound. Rare elsewhere in bays and sounds northward; very rare to rare visitor to such waters southward, mainly during very cold periods. Often migrates over the inshore ocean, from the wintering grounds northward. Mainly late Oct to mid-Mar. Scattered records for all months of the year, but of very rare to casual occurrence from Apr through Sep. The only "inland" record in the province was one photographed on the semi-tidal Perquimans River at Hertford (Perquimans) on 15 Nov 2023. High counts: 4,015 on the Portsmouth Island CBC, 29 Dec 2014; 1,650 at Pea Island NWR on 15 Feb 1977; 1,000 at Hatteras Inlet on 9 Jan 1981.
Piedmont Late fall and early winter visitor. Casual to very rare; five records, all in Nov-Dec, and all from the eastern edge of the province -- Jordan Lake, Falls Lake, Lake Crabtree, Lake Lynn (Wake), and Pee Dee NWR (Anson). High count: 5 at Lake Crabtree (Wake) on 11-13 Oct 2005.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips Brants can occasionally be seen from shore at the western tip of Hatteras Island, Ocracoke Island, or Portsmouth Island. However, to best see the birds, take the Hatteras ferry or one of the two Ocracoke ferries (to Cedar Island or to Swan Quarter). Rafts of hundreds used to be seen in the winter, although they can be missed now (2023) on many or most trips, as the flocks move around. Low "tide" is best.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-02-08], LeGrand[2023-03-01], LeGrand[2020-04-17]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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