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Grey Geese. Anseriformes part 4

Updated on September 4, 2015

Anser anser

Taken in Munich Germany
Taken in Munich Germany | Source


With the Ducks and Swans covered in parts 1-3 in the series concerning the Anseriformes my attention now turns to the geese which belong to the Duck family Anatidae. In this article I review the Grey {and White} Geese. geese are very numerous,as well as in species,or at all events,in varieties as well as individuals. They are most abundant in Polar countries,and much more abundant in those regions of the Northern hemisphere than in the southern.

Geese with the exception of a very few are completely web-footed,and they can all swim. Swimming however, is not their chief motion. The goose is properly a walker,even though the power of swimming is added,and in some species the two powers are nearly equal,and there are some in which swimming predominates. geese are much more exclusively vegetable eaters than the rest of the family,at least with the exception of the swans {see part three} and the swans are much more aquatic in their feeding than the geese,for which habit they are well adapted by the greater length of their necks.

Geese never dive nor do they in many instances,feed below the surface of the water,though they often feed, while swimming, on the leaves and seeds of aquatic plants.

The general characters of geese.

The general characters of geese -The bill is shorter than the head,higher than wide at the base,diminishing towards the tip and in consequence having a somewhat conical shape. the teeth in the margins and towards the tip of the bill,are conical,and the point of the upper mandible is generally furnished with a nail of harder consistency than the rest and sometimes differently coloured.

The old males are indeed rather larger than the females ,but,before they reach maturity,the two sexes are alike,both in size and colour,though the colour is,in many species different from that of the mature ones. The natural habitat of geese are the damp meadows and those tufted marshes which abound with plants,and they do not much frequent clear waters with pebbly shores.

This habit of pasture feeding,naturally points out why geese are migratory birds. In winter the land vegetation is covered by snow in every part of the northern regions and the covering of snow generally extends to the shallow pools,and the tufts of vegetation which supply food for the geese before winter sets in. As a consequence there is little for them to eat on the landward part of the regions in which they spend the breeding time in summer in the greatest numbers. The sea is, therefore,the only pasture left open to birds such as geese in high latitudes. In the extreme north the sea itself is also covered by ice,and with snow over the ice,and even if this were not the case the geese are incapable of finding food at sea. And so they migrate to where food is readily available to see them through the winter months. There flight is high and they keep scanning the ground for possible food and may alight to feed before continuing their journey,to their more permanent wintering grounds. They fly in the familiar V shaped pattern.

The Bean Goose Anser fabalis has been covered in detail in my series 'Birds of Europe' { }, and thus is omitted here.

Greylag goose

Taken at St.James's Park London
Taken at St.James's Park London | Source

Greylag geese in flight


A look at the species commencing with the Greylag goose

The common wild goose, or the Greylag goose, Anser anser, is generally understood to be the parent stock of all domestic species of Europe. In the UK it is placed on the Amber list of conservation concern due to localized non -breeding populations and important non-breeding populations. There are an estimated 46,000 pairs {summer} and 222,000 individuals during the winter. In Europe they are not a species of concern.

This species breeds in North and Central Europe and winters south to North Africa and South Asia and parts of Europe. It is the largest of the 'Grey geese' in the genus Anser. In North America there are feral-domestic geese similar to the Greylag and occasional vagrants. The common name is said to derive from the fact that they are the last geese to migrate -they lag behind the others.

Greylag geese have long been utilized in a domestic state, and when well kept,they put on much more weight than they do when in a natural state. They were common place on the table at Christmas and other special times of the year.

The body of the Greylag goose is somewhat rotund and bulky,the neck is thick and the head and bill are relatively large.The bill is orange-pink and the legs and feet are pinkish.They are between 29-36 inches long. The tail is relatively short 2-7 inches. Males are generally larger than the females.

The general colour of the plumage is greyish brown with a darker head and paler belly with various blackish spots. They have pale fringes to the feathers There is a white line bordering the upper flanks. The coverts are lightly coloured contrasting with the darker flight feathers.

Greylag geese

Taken in Rajasthan,India
Taken in Rajasthan,India | Source

Breeding habits of the Greylag goose.

Breeding birds choose nest sites which vary,but include near streams, salt marshes, river flood plains, reedy marshes,grassy bogs,flooded grassland sedge or heath moorland,Arctic tundra,Steppe,semi-desert.Nest are typically situated near feeding grounds such as meadows,open grassland,stubble fields etc. The nest itself is usually a shallow construction of vegetation with a depression in the middle,lined with down and feathers. It is placed on the ground among reed beds,at the base of a tree,under bushes,or in sheltered hollows. Nests of this species may be found relatively close together.

The female will deposit four to six eggs of a whitish colour,which she will then incubate for a period of 27-29 days. Greylag's have been known to hybridize with other domestic geese and resulting escapees often form feral flocks,which tend to be sedentary or non-migratory.

Pink Footed Goose. Anser brachyrhynchus

Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley | Source

Pink Footed Goose

St.Mary's Wetland Northumberland UK.
St.Mary's Wetland Northumberland UK. | Source

Pink Footed Goose.

The Pink Footed Goose ,Anser brachyrhynchus, breeds in eastern Greenland,Iceland and Svalbard { A Norwegian Archipelago in the Arctic Ocean situated north of mainland Europe and about half way between Norway and the North Pole}. They nest,often on cliffs close to glaciers, which provide protection from predators such as the Arctic Fox, but also on small islands in lakes.

The female will deposit 3-6 eggs during early May The eggs are incubated for a period of 26-27 days. The resulting goslings will leave the nest almost immediately and accompany their parents on foot to the nearest lake . They are ready to fledge in a further 60 days or so.

The Greenland and Iceland populations winter in Great Britain while the Svalbard population winter in the Netherlands and Denmark with small numbers in other countries such as Norway,northern Germany and Belgium. The number wintering in the UK are estimated at 360,000. They are placed on the Amber list of conservation concern in the UK due to important non-breeding populations.

As the common name suggests the legs and feet of this goose are pale to rich pink. They have a very dark round head which contrasts with the pale breast the small bill is dark with a pink tip.When in flight the under wings are very dark the upper wings are pale grey.the back is pale grey barred with white. The tail has a narrow dark band and abroad white tip.They are 25-30 inches long and weigh five and a half to six pounds.

They feed on plant material including roots,tubers,shoots,leaves and in winter they now feed mostly on farmland.

Greater White fronted Geese

Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley.
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley. | Source

White fronted goose Anser albifrons

This species breeds in Russia,north North America and western Greenland. Winters in Southern Europe,including Great Britain,India and central Mexico. There are two races of albifrons European and Russian. and the flavirostris of Greenland. They can be distinguished in a number of ways. The mantle and scapulars of the race flavirostris have narrow very pale fringes,creating a uniform appearance on the upper parts. The race albifrons has a more conspicuous white fringes making the upper parts obviously barred.

The greater coverts of flavirostris is dark grey with a narrow white tip and sides.The race albifrons is dark grey and the white tip and sides much broader than the same area of the former race. The flank is narrow on flavirostris but broader and much whiter on albifrons.The tail of the albifrons is dark grey with a white tip and sides much wider than the flavirostris.

There are other sub-species that occur in North America such as Anser albifrons gambelli,Anser albifrons frontalis and Anser albifrons elgasi. The white fronted goose Anser albifrons have bright orange legs and a light brown upper wing coverts. The main identification feature is the white face blaze from which it takes its common name and the short pink bill.

Anser rossi {Juvenile}

Taken  in California USA.
Taken in California USA. | Source

Emperor Goose. Chen canagica


White geese of North America.

In North America there are three species of white geese Ross's Goose sometimes referred to as Anser rossii but more commonly these days placed in the genus Chen. This is the smallest of the geese which breed in Canada,and winters further south in southern United States,and more rarely in north Mexico.

The Emperor Goose Chen canagica breeds around the Bering sea,particularly in Alaska but also in Russia. They winter mainly in the Aleutian Islands. Its current conservation status is Near Threatened.

Finally the Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens is a native of North America whose name derives from its typical white plumage. This goose breeds north of the timber line in Greenland,Canada,Alaska and the north eastern tip of Siberia. They winter from British Colombia through parts of the United States to Mexico It is classed as a are vagrant in Europe but they have been known to visit the British isles. There is even a feral population in Scotland.

There are two other sub-species,the Lesser Snow goose,Chen Caerulescens caeurlescens and the Greater Snow goose Chen caerulescens atlanticus. The lesser snow goose frequents from central northern Canada to the Bering Straights. The Greater Snow goose nests in the north eastern parts of Canada.

Snow geese tend to have white plumage,however, there blue morphs. The blue morphs have a bluish grey plumage replacing the the white except on the head,neck and tail tip. The white and blue morphs interbreed,which sometimes causes confusion with identification.

Snow goose Chen caerulescens


Snow goose Blue Morph



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      We teach each other these little added snippets of knowledge. It is always a pleasure to share with you. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I really enjoyed this. The Greater white-fronted appeared this winter at the lake, but I never got to see it. I have met the Ross's Goose, as well as both morphs of the Snow Goose. Thanks for sharing added info that I wasn't privy to until now.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hello Devika,

      Thank you for your kind comments, glad you found it interesting. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I like the way you put all this together. Beautiful photos! Informative and interesting.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi, Glad to have reminded you of your childhood days. Geese were kept by the Romans as guards for sleeping soldiers they would soon raise the alarm, if they detected intruders approaching. Thank you for your kind comments. God bless and best wishes to you.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      3 years ago from sunny Florida

      What a collection of beauties. I have to admit I am not an expert on geese and knew not that there are so many types.

      Thank you for filling in the gaps in my knowledge.

      When I was a young girl we had geese on our property who were certain their mission in life was to honk at and chase me everywhere.

      Angels are headed your way this morning ps


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