THE TRUE GEESE.
ALL the species of Geese which are known with certainty to occur within Indian limits belong to the group of which the Grey Lag-Goose is the oldest representative, and consequently they are termed True Geese.
The Geese are hardly separable by any characters from the larger Ducks. Of the Geese, however, it may be said that they have longer legs than the Ducks and they are placed in a more forward position. As a consequence, Geese are able to walk and run with considerable ease and comparative grace. They feed more on the ground, and less on the water, than Ducks. Their bills are furnished with strong serrations, more adapted for cropping herbage than for sifting water and mud. Geese have only an autumn moult, and the sexes are alike.
The True Geese, together with the Swan-bill Goose (which is described further on and only differs from the True Geese in' the shape of the bill), may always be recognised by the pattern of the primaries, the uniformly dark axillaries and the white upper tail-coverts. These characters apply equally to the old and young birds, and are very constant.
The True Geese may be divided into three sections. In the first, which contains the Grey Lag-Goose and the two White-fronted Geese, the whole bill, including the nails, is of one uniform colour throughout. In the second, which contains only the Barred-headed Goose, the bill itself is entirely of a pale colour, but the nail is black. In the third, containing the Bean-Goose and its allies, the bill is black, with a broad, pale band across it, between the nostrils and the nails. These characters will be found very constant and of great use in separating young birds.
The Geese of the first two sections have always been well understood, and there is no reason to think that sportsmen have failed to identify them properly. The Geese of the third section, however, have always been difficult to determine. Count Salvadori, when writing his " Catalogue " of these birds, not very long ago, was unable to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion with regard to one or two of the species. The British Museum has received several additional specimens, of Geese of this section within the last year or two, and after a careful examination of all the material available, I have come to the conclusion that there are six recognisable species of Geese of the third section, or of the type of the Bean-Goose. This latter is known to occur in the Indian Empire, and it is not improbable that the other five may, at some time or other, be found to occur within our limits. I have, therefore, in the proper place, given the characters by which these Geese may be known. Their identification, however, cannot always be made a matter of absolute certainty, without specimens of the different species for comparison, but I have striven to give characters for each species that cannot well be misunderstood. It will always be advisable, when possible, to preserve any specimens of Geese of this type that the sportsman may be fortunate enough to meet with, for subsequent inquiry and examination. The differences between the various species lie almost entirely in the colour and size of the bill, and, failing facilities for preserving the whole bird, the head and neck alone will suffice, together with a brief note on the colour of the bill in life, and the length of the wing.