Geese – Other Species

We have hardly space to mention in detail the remaining species of this genus beyond stating that the Bean Goose (A. fabalis), a bird about the size of the Gray-lag, having the base, tip, and edges of the bill black, with the middle portion orange, is found in the breeding season in northern Russia and Lapland and in winter throughout Europe and northern Africa. It is usually abundant along the north coast of the British Islands in winter. Very similar is the Pink-footed Goose (A. brachyrhynchus), which differs in being smaller and having the legs, feet, and middle portion of the bill pink instead of orange. It nests in Spitzbergen and probably Franz Joseph Land, migrating in winter to northern Europe, being especially abundant at that season off the British Islands.

Snow or Blue Geese. —Closely allied to the forms just considered, and by some united with them, are the Snow or Blue Geese (Chen), of which four species are known, all found in, though not confined to, North America. They differ from them in having the bill stout, its depth through the base being equal to much more than half the length of the culmen; the color of the adults is white or bluish gray.

The Greater Snow Goose (C. Hyperboreus Nivalis) is the largest form, ranging from thirty to thirty-eight inches in length, and is uniform pure white throughout, with the exception of the black primaries. Its breeding grounds are unknown, but are probably in the Arctic regions to the east of Mackenzie River; in winter is found from the Chesapeake Bay to Cuba, but is rare on the coast north of Virginia; very little is known of its habits. Similar but smaller is the Lesser Snow Goose (C. hyperboreus), which is only twenty-three to twenty-eight inches in length. It is found in western America, breeding in northern Alaska and migrating south in winter to southern California and along the Asiatic coast to Japan. Its habits are likewise but little known. The smallest species is Ross’s Snow Goose (C. Rossii), this being only twenty to twenty-six inches in total length, and otherwise differing from the two mentioned above by the smaller, weaker bill. It is found in the interior of Arctic America in summer and in winter migrates as far south as Montana on the east and southern California on the west. Its nests, eggs, and habits, as well, are practically unknown. The last species of the genus is the so-called Blue Goose (C. Caerulescens), which may be known by the plumage being chiefly grayish brown, the rump and wing-coverts usually bluish gray. It was formerly thought to be the young of the Snow Goose, but it is now known to be a distinct species. It is found in eastern North America, spending the summer on the eastern shore of Hudson’s Bay and migrating southward, chiefly in the interior, to Texas. The nest and eggs are not known.

Brent or Sea Geese. — Passing over a small number of relatively unimportant Old World forms, we come to the last members of this subfamily, namely, the Brent or Sea Geese (Branta). They have in general much the same form as those previously mentioned, but are distinguished by the darker plumage, the head and neck being mainly black, and the bill, legs, and feet entirely deep black at all ages. Of the eight or nine species and subspecies recognized all but one are found in North America, and of these the Canada Goose (B. canadensis) is by far the best known. It is a bird from thirty-five to forty-three inches long, with the back and wings grayish brown, the under parts grayish white, the head and neck black, with the throat and a large patch on the side of the head white. It is one of the most widely distributed of our birds, being found over nearly the entire temperate parts of the continent. It breeds mainly in the northern United States and the British Provinces, coming south in winter to the Middle and Southern States, and even to Mexico. It usually builds a nest of sticks, lined with down, this being placed on the ground in open country, or along the shores of rivers or lakes, or occasionally in trees, then utilizing an old nest of the Osprey or some other large bird. The eggs are usually four or five in number, bully white, and about three and one half by two and one half inches. They usually migrate at night and their familiar honk-honk comes floating through the air with astonishing distinctness. They are strong, rather rapid flying birds, and when on the wing arrange themselves in V-shaped lines under the direction of a trusted leader, who avoids so far as possible all suspicious places. Occasionally they become confused on entering a bank of fog or the smoke overhanging a city and come close to the earth, when they not infrequently dash against monuments and lighthouses. They feed on aquatic plants, seeds, roots of sedges, etc., and when feeding in companies always have sentinels out, who warn the flock at the first show of danger. They arrive from the south at their summer homes in flocks of varying size, and remain in company for some weeks, then break up into pairs and proceed to the business of rearing their young. After the nesting season is over the moult takes place, and being then unable to fly the birds are often destroyed in great numbers. They have been partially domesticated, but unless the wing is cut are liable to be allured by passing wild birds.

There are a number of well-marked subspecies, which closely resembles the Canada Goose in color, but is uniformly smaller. It breeds in Arctic and sub-Arctic America, coming south in winter through the United States and northeastern Asia. The White-cheeked Goose (B. C. Occidentalis) may be known by the very dark coloration, the size being about that of Hutchins’s Goose. Its breeding grounds are on the northwest coast of North America, north to Sitka, and it comes south in winter to California. Similar but not much larger than a Mallard Duck is the Cackling Goose (B. C. Mminima), which is also found on the Pacific coast, chiefly about the lower Yukon and the shores of Norton Sound; in winter it visits California.

Barnacle Goose. — In western Europe this group is represented by the Barnacle Goose (B. Leucopsis), which is so called on account of the curious belief which gained credence from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries, that they were developed from barnacles. Thus Giraldus Cambrensis, writing in 1187, says : “There are here many birds which are called Bernacae , which nature produces in a manner contrary to nature, and very wonderful. They are like marsh-geese, but smaller. They are produced from fir timber tossed about at sea, and are at first like eggs on it. Afterwards they hang down by their beaks, as if from a sea-weed attached to the wood, and are enclosed in shells that they may grow the more freely. Having thus, in course of time, been clothed with a strong covering of feathers, they either fall into the water, or seek their liberty in the air by flight. The embryo geese derive their growth and nutriment from the moisture of the wood or of the sea, in a secret and most marvelous manner. I have seen with my own eyes more than a thousand minute bodies of these birds hanging from one piece of timber on the shore, enclosed in shells, and already formed.” Pages of testimony of a similar character might be quoted from Olaus Magnus, Sir John Maundeville, and many others.

The Barnacle Goose is about twenty-five inches in length and has the mantle bluish gray barred with black and gray, the wings and tail blackish, the lower parts white, and the head mostly white, with the lores, crown, neck, and chest black. It is found in Greenland, Iceland, Spitzbergen, and Nova Zembla, where it is supposed to breed, but its nest and eggs are unknown. It winters in northern Europe, coming occasionally to the east coast of North America.

The Brant or Brant Goose (B. Bernicla) is found on the seacoast of eastern North America and western Europe, breeding only within the Arctic Circle. It is a little smaller than the last and has the upper parts brownish gray, the lower parts slate-gray, and the head entirely black, with a white patch on the sides of the neck. The American form, which is whiter below than the European, is a distinct subspecies (B. Glaucogaster), though it also occurs in western Europe. The nest, placed on the ground, is composed of grasses, moss, etc., and is lined with down, and the eggs, smooth and creamy white in color, are usually four. Its habits are similar to those of its relatives, it being, however, rather less active than the Canada Goose, and not flying with the same precision or rapidity. The Black Brant (B. nigricans) is the western representative of the last species and may be known by the nearly complete white collar, and much darker under parts. The Brant Geese are present in the Southern Hemisphere, but as they differ more or less from those of the north they have been separated as a sub-family (Chloephaginae), but the characters are not very important and some writers place them all under the genus last considered. Of the six species found in southern South America, Mr. W. H. Hudson considers the Ashy-headed Goose (Chloephaga poliocephala) as the handsomest. It has the head, neck, and scapulars grayish lead-color, the breast and upper back chestnut, banded with black, the abdomen, under wing-coverts, bend of the wing, and secondaries white, the primaries, lower back, tail, and wing-coverts black, the latter edged with shining green and tipped with white, and- the under tail-coverts chestnut-rufous.

This bird spends the summer in Patagonia and in winter migrates northward to southern Argentina, appearing on the pampas in small flocks or occasionally in parties of one or two hundred. Other species are the Andean Goose (C. melanoptera), an inhabitant of the high Andes of Peru and Bolivia and the central provinces of Chile, coming down to the plains in winter; the Upland Goose (C. magellanica) of the Falkland Islands and Patagonia, and the Barred Upland Goose (C. inornata), a northern form of the last, found in Chile and Argentina.

Maned Goose. — The account of the Geese may be closed with a brief mention of the handsome Maned Goose (Chenonetta jubata) of Australia, which is so named from the presence of lengthened black plumes on the back of the neck. It is only about twenty inches long and has the plumage a mixture of velvety black, gray, white, and glossy green. It usually nests in hollow trees, often at a distance from water, and feeds on grasses, aquatic plants, snails, and insects.