Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
ANSER BERNICLA, Linn.
PLATE CCCLXXIX.--MALE AND FEMALE.
The extent of the migrations of this species remains as yet unknown. Its
progress along our Atlantic shores in October, November, and December, is
varied, and in a great measure uncertain, it being apparently induced to tarry
or to proceed by the changes which may happen in the temperature. It in fact
appears to remain along the coast until forced away by the intensity of the
cold, when it resumes its flight, and removes to countries beyond the southern
limits of the United States.
The Brent Goose may be considered as a salt-water bird, for it never
ascends our rivers beyond the influence of the tides, nor is found on inland
lakes or ponds, unless it be wounded, and happen to alight accidentally in such
places. To this natural predilection for salt-water may be attributed its habit
of flying round the projections of capes and headlands: it very seldom passing
directly over a neck of land, unless suddenly surprised and alarmed by the
This species has never been seen by my friend Dr. BACHMAN in South
Carolina. I never observed any on the lakes or shores about the mouths of the
Mississippi, nor any where in the course of my route to Texas. While I was in
that country, I did not find any person who could give me sufficient reasons for
believing that it ever tarries there. Where it may go in winter is therefore to
The flesh of this bird I consider as excellent food. The young in autumn,
or about the time of their first appearance on our eastern coast, Massachusetts
for example, are tender, juicy, and fat; and are as well known to the epicures
of Boston as the more celebrated Canvass-back is to those of Baltimore.
Its flight resembles that of our other Geese, being in ordinary
circumstances rather slow and sedate. As to its cry, although I have often seen
hundreds of individuals at a time, I have not been able to tune my ears so as to
liken its cacklings to the sounds produced by "a pack of hounds in full cry," as
alleged by WILSON. The Brent Goose is a shy bird, not easily approached; it
swims well, and when wounded can dive with great expertness, as I have more than
once witnessed. Its food consists of marine plants, which I have often found in
its gizzard, along with coarse gravel and fragments of shells, which latter were
so thick as to lead me to think that the bird had not broken them for the
purpose of getting at the animal. In walking it moves with lighter and quicker
steps than even the Bernacle Goose, Anser leucopsis. It is very easily tamed,
and when thus subjugated eats any kind of grain, and crops the grass well with
its head slightly inclined to one side. It has been known to produce young in
Of its manner of breeding I am ignorant; and all that has been stated on
the subject is, that it breeds in great numbers in northern latitudes, for
example, on the coasts and islands of Hudson's Bay and the Arctic Sea, and that
it lays white eggs.
I have represented a pair which were shot in spring, when their migratory
movements are more regular than in autumn.
"A few years ago," Mr. THOMAS MACCULLOCH writes to me, "a Brent Goose,
slightly wounded in the tip of the wing, was brought us, but it rejected
sea-grass and every thing else which was offered it, and died in a few days
after it came into our possession. Shortly after we procured another, which had
been disabled in the same manner. Like the first it rejected every thing but
water, and would certainly soon have shared the fate of its predecessor, had not
my mother thrown a handful of unshelled barley into the tub of water, in which
it was accustomed to swim. The grain was immediately devoured by the bird, with
as much avidity as if it had been its usual fare; and during the time it
remained with us, it would taste no other food. It having recovered the use of
its wing, we usually placed it at night, for greater security, in a room near
the one in which the man-servant slept. This arrangement, however, did not
prove agreeable to all the parties concerned. Though the Brent was perfectly
silent, yet the disposition for early rising which it evinced by pattering about
the floor sorely disturbed the Irishman's predilection for a lengthened nap. To
relieve himself from the annoyance, early one morning, when he thought there was
no danger of detection, he let the bird free. It, however, no sooner found
itself loose than it began to exult most loudly in its liberty, and my mother,
who was awakened by the singular and unusual noise, rose and lifted the blind,
just as it took wing for the water, where doubtless it soon rejoined its former
companions. The time it was in our possession was too short to admit of many
observations being made on its habits. We remarked, however, that it was by no
means deficient in courage. When approached, it would lower its head, writhe
its glossy serpent-like neck, and, with open month, protruded tongue, and eyes
flashing with rage, prepare to defend itself, emitting at the same time a strong
hissing sound. This was the only noise which it made while in our possession,
and until the morning of its departure it was never heard to use the hoarse call
of the species."
BRANT, Anas Bernicla, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. viii. p. 131.
ANSER BERNICLA, Bonap. Syn., p. 378.
ANSER BERNICLA, Brent Goose, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,
vol. ii.p. 469.
BRANT or BRENT GOOSE, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 358.
BRENT GOOSE; Anser Bernicla, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. vi pp. 24, 610.
Male, 24 1/2, 48. Female, 23, 44 1/2
Abundant along the coast of the Atlantic, from Maine to Maryland, during
winter. Never seen far inland. Breeds from Labrador northward. Columbia
Bill much shorter than the head, higher than broad at the base, somewhat
conical slightly depressed toward the end, narrowed and rounded at the tip.
Upper mandible with the dorsal line sloping, the ridge a little flattened at the
base, convex toward the end, the sides sloping, the edges soft, the oblique
marginal lamellae, short, transverse, about 25 on each side, the unguis round,
convex, striato-denticulate on the inner edge. Nasal groove elliptical,
commencing at the base, and extending to beyond the middle of the bill; nostrils
lateral, medial, longitudinal, narrow-elliptical, open, pervious. Lower
mandible straight, depressed, with the angle very long, rather wide, somewhat
rounded, the sides sloping outwards, the edges soft, with about forty lamellae.
Head small, oblong, compressed. Neck rather long and slender. Body full,
slightly depressed. Feet short, stout, placed a little behind the centre of the
body; legs bare a little above the tibio-tarsal joint. Tarsus short,
compressed, covered all round with angular reticulated scales, which are smaller
behind. Hind toe extremely small, with a very narrow membrane; third toe
longest, fourth a little shorter, but longer than the second; all the toes
reticulated above at the base, but with narrow transverse scutella towards the
end; the three anterior connected by a reticulated membrane; the outer with a
thick margin, the inner with the margin extended into a two-lobed web. Claws
small, arched, rather depressed, especially that of the middle toe, which has
the inner margin expanded.
Plumage close, rather short, compact above, blended on the head, neck, and
lower parts of the body. The feathers of the head and neck small and oblong, of
the back very broad and abruptly rounded, of the breast and belly broadly
rounded. Wings, when closed, extending a little beyond the end of the tail;
primaries very strong, decurved, the first longest, the second almost equal;
secondaries long, broad, rounded. Tail very short, rounded, of sixteen
Bill and feet black. Iris hazel. Head and neck all round black, glossed
with blue. A small streak under the eye, and a spot on the chin, white; on each
side of the neck a patch of the same formed by a number of the feathers which
have a white band near the end. The general colour of the upper parts is
brownish-grey, the feathers terminally margined with light greyish-brown; the
quills, and primary coverts greyish-black, the primaries darker; the upper
tail-coverts white, the tail greyish-black. The fore part of the breast is
light brownish-grey, the feathers terminally margined with greyish-white; the
grey tint gradually fades into white, which is the colour of the abdomen, sides
of the rump and lower tail-coverts; the sides of the body grey, the feathers
broadly tipped with white; axillar feathers and lower wing-coverts grey.
Length to end of tail 24 1/2 inches, to end of claws 25 1/2; extent of
wings 48; bill along the ridge 1 4/12, along the edge of lower mandible 1 4/12;
wing from flexure 13; tail 4 1/2; tarsus 1 1/4; hind toe (3 1/2)/12, its claw
(3 1/2)/12; middle toe 1 8/12, its claw (4 1/2)/12. Weight 3 1/4 lbs.
The female, which is somewhat smaller, is similar to the male.
Length to end of tail 23 inches, to end of wings 24, to end of claws
23 3/4; extent of wings 44 1/2. Weight 2 1/4 lbs.
An adult female procured by Dr. THOMAS M. BREWER of Boston.
The roof of the mouth is concave, with a median row of short papillae, two
lateral series of flattened laminae, and some irregularly scattered intermediate
prominences, the lower mandible more concave. The tongue is fleshy, with the
base papillate, the sides parallel and furnished with recurved papillae, the tip
rounded and thin, the entire length 1 inch 5 twelfths. The oesophagus,
which is 13 inches long, is exceedingly slender, its diameter when contracted
not being greater than that of the windpipe, or about 4 twelfths, but it is
capable of being dilated to 6 twelfths; its inner coat thrown into prominent
longitudinal rugae. The proventriculus, [a b], is enlarged to the breadth of 11
twelfths, its glandules simple, cylindrical, 2 twelfths long. The stomach,
[c d e f], is a very highly developed muscular gizzard, placed obliquely, and of
an elliptical form, its length being 1 inch 9 twelfths, its breadth 2 inches 11
twelfths. This great breadth is caused, as in other birds of this family, by
the vast size of the lateral muscles, of which the left, [d], has a thickness at
the middle of 1 inch 4 1/2 twelfths, the right, [e], of 1 inch 3 twelfths, thus
leaving but a very small space between the two grinding surfaces, which are
placed obliquely. The lower muscle, 8 narrow and of moderate thickness. The
epithelium is soft, unless on the two grinding plates, which are of an
elliptical form, a little concave, smooth in the middle, longitudinally grooved
toward the margins. The proventricular belt of glandules is 1 inch 3 twelfths
in breadth. The stomach contained--a large quantity of pure quartz sand. The
pylorus is destitute of valve. The duodenum [e g h], has a diameter of 4 1/2
twelfths, and curves at the distance of 5 inches; the intestine is disposed in
longitudinal folds, there being 16 turns, and measures 5 feet 11 inches in
length. It retains a pretty uniform breadth as far as the rectum
Fig. 2, [a b],
which enlarges to 7 twelfths. The coeca, [a c c], which come off at the
distance of 5 inches from the extremity, are 5 inches in length, very narrow,
their diameter at the base being about 1 twelfth, towards the end 2 twelfths,
and their greatest breadth toward the middle 3 1/2 twelfths.
In Fig. 2 is seen
part of the oviduct, [d b], which opens at the distance of 1/2 inch from the
anus, opposite [b], and above or anterior to the ureters. In this bird there
is no decided cloaca, which is equally the case with other species of this
family, and with such birds generally as pass their faeces in a compact
cylindrical form. In this respect, Swans, Geese, and Ducks are analogous to
Pheasants, Grouse, and Partridges; they being in fact aquatic Gallinaceae.
The trachea is 11 inches long, its diameter at the upper part 4 1/2
twelfths. It is a little flattened above, less so in the middle, and somewhat
compressed at the lower extremity, where its diameter is 3 twelfths. There are
150 free osseous rings, and 15 additional united rings at the lower part. The
inferior larynx is destitute of muscles. The space between the last ring of the
trachea and the first bronchial ring is large, being 4 1/2 twelfths in length.
The bronchi are very short, rather wide, with about 10 incomplete rings, the
extremities of which nearly meet. The lateral muscles are strong, and there is
a pair of cleido-tracheal, and a pair of sterno-tracheal muscles, the former
coming off at the distance of 2 1/2 inches, the latter at that of 1 inch 2
twelfths, from the inferior larynx. The cleido-tracheal muscle is a direct
continuation of part of the contractor, but the sterno-tracheal is independent
of them, and attached to two rings of the trachea. The contractor muscle
terminates in the solid tube, at the distance of 9 twelfths from the inferior