Black Brant Branta (bernicla) orientalis (formerly nigricans)

Brent Geese belonging to the North American and east Siberian form orientalis now regularly occur in Norfolk - several individuals are recorded most winters. Note that the old scientific name nigricans is now applied to Grey-bellied Brant, formally described for the first time in 2013, leaving Black Brant with a new name, orientalis.

Many of the Black Brants that winter in western Europe have produced hybrids with Dark-bellied Brent Geese, and this makes their identification far more difficult. Some hybrids can be reasonably easy, but others may be much more like either parent species - and to complicate matters further backcrossed hybrids occur as well.

Over the years I have identified a number of Black Brant-like birds as hybrids on account of the back and belly not being dark enough. Whilst this was undoubtedly valid in some cases I had not always appreciated the extent to which these parts can vary in appearance according to light, and it may well be that I have misidentified some perfectly good Black Brants as hybrids. Under certain light conditions the black on a Black Brant's back and breast can be so dark that it doesn't contrast at all with the black neck, but on the same bird in different lights (including bright sunshine) these parts can contrast quite strongly with the neck (although they should always appear darker than on Dark-bellied Brent Geese in the same conditions).

The extent of dark feathering within the white flank patch is certainly variable with all forms of Brent Goose and the precise extent of the white neck collar is also variable. In both cases there may be little overlap with pure Dark-bellied Brent Goose but I have come to believe that a slightly less prominent white flank patch than on the most obvious birds, or a white neck collar that doesn't reach quite so far round the back of the neck as it does on some birds, are not probably not good evidence of a hybrid identity.

In view of the above I have now lost confidence in the labelling of several birds I'd originally got down as hybrids, and although I still think some of them were hybrids (I'm sure a few were) I think several of them were more likely pure birds after all. I haven't yet developed a full understanding of the limits between pure and hybrid birds - more study and more learning is needed!

I have now moved photos of birds that I believe most likely to involve hybrids to a separate page Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent Goose. That is not to say that I am 100% certain that every bird on this page is a pure Black Brant and if you believe any not to be then please do get in touch.

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adult Black Brant (with Dark-bellied Brent Geese), Wells (Norfolk, UK), 26th February 2007

 

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adult Black Brant (with Dark-bellied Brent Geese), Salthouse (Norfolk, UK), 6th December 2014

 

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adult Black Brant (with Dark-bellied Brent Geese), Cley (Norfolk, UK), 18th December 2014 - same bird as at Salthouse, above

 

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adult Black Brant (with Dark-bellied Brent Geese), Cley (Norfolk, UK), 30th October 2015

 

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adult Black Brant (with Dark-bellied Brent Geese), Wells (Norfolk, UK), 11th December 2007

 

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adult Black Brant (with Dark-bellied Brent Geese and hybrid young), Wells (Norfolk, UK), 19th November 2004

 

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adult Black Brant, Titchwell (Norfolk, UK), 1st November 2008

 

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adult Black Brant (with Dark-bellied Brent Geese), Titchwell (Norfolk, UK), 9th February 2008

 

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adult Black Brant (with Dark-bellied Brent Geese), Stiffkey (Norfolk, UK), 21st March 2009

 

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adult Black Brant (with Dark-bellied Brent Geese), Salthouse (Norfolk, UK), 3rd January 2011

 

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adult Black Brant (same bird as above; with Dark-bellied Brent Geese), Salthouse (Norfolk, UK), 3rd January 2011

 

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adult Black Brant, Wells, 19th February 2007 - there were also hybrids in this flock

 

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probable adult Black Brant, Burnham Overy (Norfolk, UK), 31st January 2009 - I suspect this was a pure bird and the contrast between the breast and belly was down to the strong light, however I am not certain that a hybrid can be ruled out

 

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adult Black Brant, Wells (Norfolk, UK), 14th February 2008

 

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adult Black Brant, Wells (Norfolk, UK), 13th January 2012 - this appeared perfect in some lights but less impressive in other lights - I am not 100% certain it was not a hybrid; the extent of dark feathering within the white flank patch appears to be matched by many Black Brants in North America

 

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first-winter Black Brant, Roa Island causeway (Cumbria, UK), 27th December 2012 - although my initial thought when I picked this bird up was that it looked like a Black Brant, I lacked experience with first-winters and wimped out of identifying as such. Instead I published it as presumed Dark-bellied but noting the possibility that it might be Black Brant in the hope that someone might pick up on it and provide a more confident voice for it being a Black Brant. Big thanks to James McCallum for doing just that, fresh from finding his own first-winter Black Brant in Norfolk. Apparently it returned as an adult Black Brant in the winter of 2013/14.

 

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captive adult Black Brant, Martin Mere (Lancashire, UK), 26th December 2014