91. THE LARGE WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE.
Anser albifrons, (SCOPOLI).
Outer primaries grey, tipped with blackish; inner primaries and outer secondaries uniformly blackish; all with white shafts.
Upper tail-coverts white.
Axillaries dark ashy.
Bill of a pale colour, without any black, and measuring about 1.8 from the forehead straight to the tip of the nail of the upper mandible.
Rump dark brown or blackish.
VERNACULAR NAME:—Rhai-hans, Oudh.
THE Large White-fronted Goose is, no doubt, commoner in India, during the winter, than is generally supposed. It appears to be overlooked, or perhaps mistaken for other Geese.
This Goose has occurred in various localities in the Punjab, and Sind. Lieut. C. D. Lester obtained it in Cutch.
Messrs. Hume and Marshall inform us that it has been found in the Ganges and Jumna in the Saharanpur and Moozuffer-nugger districts. Mr. G. Reid records it from Lucknow, and Mr. Hume had a specimen which was killed a few miles south of that place. Colonel Graham is our authority for the statement that this Goose occurs right up the valley of Assam. Capt. F. T. Williams very kindly sent me a photograph of a specimen of this Goose, which he shot on the Chindwin river on the 27th November, 1896. Lastly, Major G. Rippon writes to me that he was informed that some officers of the 4th Burma Battalion had shot this species on the lake at Fort Stedman, in the Southern Shan States.
In the summer, this Goose is found in high northern latitudes from Greenland to Eastern Siberia. In the winter, it migrates as far south as the Mediterranean, North-East Africa, the Caspian Sea, India and China.
Very little has been written on the habits of this Goose. The late Mr. Seebohm, who did not however separate this species from its relative, the Small White-fronted Goose, says :—" The notes of the White-fronted Goose are somewhat similar to those of the Grey Goose, but are more trumpet-like in tone and more rapidly repeated, so that it has sometimes been called the Laughing Goose. In other respects the habits of the White-fronted, Bean-, and Grey Geese are so similar that the description of one might almost pass for that of the others."
Captain Shelley remarks :—" This is the most abundant Goose in Egypt, where it may usually be met with in flocks, but does not remain in the country later than March. When on the wing they fly in a wedge-shaped flock, and frequently utter a loud harsh cry, which may be heard at a considerable distance. They are generally on the move just before sunrise and sunset, and as they are very regular, taking the same line of flight and feeding at the same spot each day, they may be most readily obtained by lying in wait for them. If once fired at, the flock generally leaves the neighbourhood altogether."
Middendorff found this species breeding on the Taimur peninsula in July. On the 10th of that month he found a nest containing two eggs in a depression in the top of a cone-shaped tussock, the eggs being well bedded in down. About this time, the birds were beginning to moult.
In the British Museum there are four eggs of this Goose, taken in Greenland. Three are much stained, and are of a dirty yellow colour. One is of a dull white colour. They average 3.1 in length and 2.05 in breadth. In shape they are broad ovals, and the shell is fairly smooth.
In the adult bird the forehead, for a distance of about three-quarters of an inch from the bill, a broad band on either side the base of the upper mandible, and the whole chin are white, edged everywhere by an ill-defined blackish band. The remainder of the head and the whole neck are brown, paler on the sides of the face and on the throat, mottled darker on the crown. The mantle, back, scapulars, and the longer inner secondaries are ashy brown, each feather margined with greyish white. The rump is dark brown or blackish, and the upper tail-coverts white. The two middle tail-feathers are ashy brown, broadly tipped with white. The others are basally brown, terminally white. The upper part of the breast is pale ashy grey, each feather edged paler. The remainder of the lower plumage is more or less white, with broad, interrupted, black bars and patches, except on the lowermost portion of the abdomen and the under tail-coverts, which are plain white. The sides of the body are brown, each feather with a broad pale margin. The upper wing-coverts are dark ashy, the lower series with broad whitish tips. The outer primaries are grey with blackish tips ; the inner primaries and the outer secondaries are wholly blackish, the latter very narrowly margined with grey. The axillaries and under wing-coverts are dark ashy.
Younger birds have the chin brown, like the throat; but the lower plumage is as fully marked with black as in the adult.
Still younger birds have a very small amount of white on the forehead and sides of the base of the upper mandible, but a considerable amount of black on the abdomen. Birds in first plumage have no white on the face, and the lower plumage is unmarked with black.
Length about 27; wing about 15 1/2; tail 5. The female is a little smaller than the male. The bill appears to vary from pale livid fleshy to orange-yellow, the nail being whitish in all cases; the irides are brown; the legs and feet are orange. Weight up to rather more than 5 lb.