92. THE SMALL WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE.
Anser erythropus, LINNAEUS.
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 1.3 from the forehead straight to the tip of the nail of the upper mandible.
Rump dark brown or blackish.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—None known.
THERE are few authenticated instances of the occurrence of the Small White-fronted, or Dwarf, Goose in India. Colonel Irby, Dr. Bonavia, and Mr. A. Anderson met with this species in the province of Oudh, and a specimen now in the British Museum, from the Hume Collection, marked " Oudh," is probably a bird obtained by Dr. Bonavia. Three specimens shot by Mr. W. N. Chill in March, near Sultanpur, thirty miles south of Delhi, are also in the same collection. These four Indian-killed specimens are all very fine adult birds. Quite recently Mr. F. Finn received three live birds of this species from some part of Upper India.
The distribution of this Goose is very similar to that of the Large White-fronted Goose, except that it does not appear to occur to the west of Lapland. It extends from that country right across Asia to Japan, being found in summer in very high latitudes. In the winter it migrates to Southern Europe, the Caspian Sea, Central Asia, India, and China.
The habits of this Goose are seldom referred to at any length by European writers. I shall first quote what Dr. Bree says of this species.
He writes :—" Their manners and habits of flight are very similar to those of Geese in general. In their long migrations they form an oblique line, one after the other; and M. Dubois states that they will sometimes follow flocks of Harvest Geese, at the same time keeping at a distance from them. If these last fly down on a field or piece of water, they also stop, but they do not then approach nearer their companions of the voyage than while travelling. They are very fond of swimming about, which they do with great agility. They feed upon roots, grain, and water lentils. They are not very wild, but at the same time cautious, and keep at a long range from the sportsman's gun."
Mr. Dresser says :—" In habits the present species is said to assimilate closely to the White-fronted Goose. It breeds, like many of the Geese, in the extreme north of the European and Asiatic continents. Dr. Sundstrom informs me that, according to Lieutenant Widmark, this Goose breeds in Lapland in places near where there is ice all the season, and nests in considerable numbers; but I have no detailed information respecting its nesting habits. Lieutenant Widmark says that it moults about the 1st of July, and he saw a flock in full moult early in August. When in moult, they collect in vast flocks, and frequent localities where the ice always remains ; and though unable to fly, they are swift enough on the foot to escape capture."
In the British Museum there are eggs of this species collected in Finmark and Lapland by Messrs. Wolley, Wheelwright and Meves. The largest clutch in the collection consists of four eggs, but probably more than this number are usually laid ; in fact, Prof. Collett states that five or six eggs form the normal number. The shell is rather smooth, and has a small amount of gloss. The colour is pale yellowish. They measure from 2.7 to 3.27 in length and from 1.8 to 1.93 in breadth. The only dated eggs record the fact that they were taken in June.
This species differs from the Large White-fronted Goose in size, and, in a smaller degree, in plumage.
In the Small White-fronted Goose, the white on the forehead extends back about one inch and a quarter, in fact to beyond the eyes. Only the extreme tip of the chin is white, not the entire chin. The dark band bordering the white of the face is much blacker. The colour of the head varies from brown, with a reddish or fulvous tinge, to dark brown, with a chocolate tinge. The breast and abdomen are pale brown with grey margins to the feathers and with broad black bars and patches as in the larger species. The lowermost portion of the abdomen and the under tail-coverts are pure white.
Young birds have no white whatever on the face, and the lower plumage is pale smoky brown, the feathers margined with dull fulvous, but the lower part of the abdomen and the under tail-coverts are pure white.
Birds acquiring the adult plumage have the forehead and sides of the base of the upper mandible white, streaked with black, and surrounded by a black band. It would appear that the black band recedes as the amount of white on the face increases. The black band is apparently always of the same width and always in immediate contact with the white, no matter what the extent of the latter may be.
Length about 22; wing about 14 1/2; tail about 4. According to Mr. Dresser the bill is dull white, with a fleshy tinge; nail pale horn-colour; iris brown; legs and edge of eyelids orange-yellow. A young bird shot by Dr. Finsch in Western Siberia, and now in the British Museum, has the bill deep red. The colours of this specimen, however, when first killed, are recorded on the label in German, and may be translated thus : Bill dirty flesh-colour, and also the eyelid; legs pale dirty ochre, the webs brownish.
Mr. Finn, writing of the three live birds of this species already mentioned, states that the bill is of a beautiful rose-pink and the eyelids lemon-yellow ; the iris dark and the feet orange.
The weight of this Goose does not appear to have been recorded.