90. THE GREY LAG-GOOSE.
Anser anser, (LINNAEUS).*
Outer primaries grey, tipped with blackish ; inner primaries and outer secondaries uniformly blackish; all with white shafts.
Upper tail-coverts white.
Axillaries bluish grey.
Bill of a pale colour, without any black, and measuring about 2.6 from the forehead straight to the tip of the nail of the upper mandible.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—Sona, Hans, Raj-hans, Kurria-sona, Upper India ; Budt-bay, Doab; Kar-hans, Bhagulpur; Mogala, Mogala-buttuk, Nepal Terai; Kangnai, Manipur; Tau-ngan, Burmese.
I FIND it difficult to separate the Grey Lag-Goose of India from the Grey Lag-Goose of Europe, as Count Salvadori has done, and I prefer to treat them as one species for the present. The series of the Indian bird in the British Museum is very large, whereas the series of the European bird is very small. Materials for instituting a proper comparison between the two are therefore wanting, but so far as I can judge, the differences between the two races are very trifling, and apparently not constant.
The Grey Lag-Goose is found in India as a winter visitor, arriving at the end of October, and leaving at the end of March or the beginning of April; these dates being varied according to locality and surrounding circumstances. This Goose is not confined to the plains, but occurs in all suitable places in the Himalayas up to 6000 feet.„ It ranges from the extreme west of Sind and of the Punjab to the extreme east of Assam. In India, the ordinary southern limit of this species appears to be a rough line drawn from the mouth of the Nerbudda river to the southern edge of the Chilka lake, but a correspondent of the " Asian" informs us that he has observed this Goose as far south as the 18th degree of latitude, and far into the Vizagapatam District. On the east, it ranges from Assam to Manipur, where Mr. Hume obtained it on the Logtak lake. It occurs on the Chindwin and Irrawaddy rivers, and in the latter river it is abundant down to Myingyan at least.
Outside our limits the Grey Lag-Goose has an immense range from the Atlantic to the Pacific, extending far north in Europe and Western Asia, but apparently not above the 55th degree of latitude in Eastern Asia. In winter it is found as far south as the Mediterranean, the Caucasus, Northern Persia, India and Southern China. Our Indian visitors probably migrate to Turkestan and Central Asia, where this Goose is known to nest abundantly.
The Grey Lag-Goose is a gregarious bird, being found in parties which number from half a dozen to several hundreds or even thousands, but it does not associate much, if at all, with other water fowl. The food of the Goose is almost entirely vegetable, and it spends most of its time on land, feeding on crops in the mornings and evenings, and resting during the day on the shelving banks of some river or lake. It is partial to tender grass, young corn, beans and other vegetables, and in a smaller degree to the shoots of water plants. Both when feeding and when resting during the day, Geese are particularly vigilant and difficult of approach.
When once started, they fly well, but they are slow in taking wing, either from land or water. They run along the ground several paces before they can rise, and, if on the water, they beat the surface with their wings, at the same time cackling and stretching out their necks. They swim with great ease, but they do not dive much, unless wounded. On migration, they fly at a great height, and the flock forms itself into two oblique lines meeting at an angle in front.
Regarding the cries of the Grey Lag-Goose, the late Mr. Seebohm wrote:— "The note of the Grey Goose closely resembles that of its congeners ; it is not so musical as the trumpeting of the Swan, nor quite so harsh as the quack of the Duck. It is impossible to represent it exactly on paper: one of its notes, supposed to be associated with love and war, is a loud trumpet-like sound; but as one bird calls to another on migration, or on their feeding-grounds, it sounds something like gag, gag. When the goose and the gander are chattering together, it is lower and softer, and might be represented as tat, tat, tat; but when a flock of Geese is suddenly surprised it becomes an alarm-note—loud, shrill, harsh, long-drawn¬ out at intervals, kak, kak, kike, sometimes even ki-ike."
The Grey Lag-Goose is an early breeder, and no time is apparently lost in courtship. They choose the wildest moors and swamps for their breeding-grounds. The nest is a clumsy structure of grass and reeds on the ground, and when the eggs are laid, the Goose lines it with down from her body. The number of eggs varies from six to twelve or even fourteen. The eggs are rough in texture and of a creamy white colour. They measure about 3.5 by 2.3. The gander watches near the nest while the goose is sitting, and, when the young are hatched, assists his mate to look after them.
The adult bird has the whole head and neck brown, with a very narrow fringe of white round the base of the upper mandible, the brown darker on the crown, the feathers of the neck soft and pointed. The mantle, back, scapulars and the longer inner secondaries are ashy brown, each feather margined with greyish white. The rump is grey 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 breast is ashy grey, each feather edged paler. The sides of the body are brown, with grey margins to the feathers. The whole abdomen and the under tail-coverts are white, the former with broad, irregular, broken-up black bars or patches. The lesser upper wing-coverts and those on the margin of the wing are pale bluish grey, edged paler. The other upper wing-coverts are brown with grey margins. The outer primaries are grey, with blackish tips; the remainder are wholly blackish. The outer secondaries are blackish, very finely and narrowly margined with whitish. The shafts of all the primaries and outer secondaries are white. The axillaries and under wing-coverts are bluish grey.
Young birds have no black marks on the abdomen, and no white round the base of the upper mandible.
Males are not invariably larger than females. Both sexes vary much in size and weight. Length about 32; wing about 18; tail about 6. The bill is said to vary from whitish to dull reddish brown. The irides are brown. The legs and feet are of the same colour as the bill. Weight nearly up to 9 lb., but much heavier birds appear to be found in Europe.
* Anser rubrirostris of the British Museum Catalogue.