The bean-goose, like the grey-lag, is a big bird with a large strong bill, indeed bulged and coarse in some specimens; by the colour of this, which is black at the tip and for a varying amount of the base, the remaining portion being orange, it can be distinguished from any large-billed goose found with us. The legs are also orange, and the general colour of the plumage dark greyish-brown rather than grey.
Although there are several reports of its occurring in India, there seems to be no actual Indian-killed specimen on record; yet Blyth, who was perhaps the best naturalist that ever lived, definitely said that Gould had one which was killed in the Deccan.
As the bird has a wide distribution in the north of the Eastern Hemisphere, and visits the shores of the Mediterranean in winter, it is at any rate highly probable that these records are correct. Several forms are distinguished, chiefly differing in the distribution of the colours on the bill and in the size. The bird figured in Hume's plate is of the race distinguished as aroensis, in which the orange occupies the bill nearly to the exclusion of the black, whereas in the typical form this colour is confined to a band in front of the middle of the bill, the bill being thus mostly black. This is generally the case also with the race middendorfi, which visits China in winter, and is certainly a probable visitor; but Blyth said that Gould's bird was a common bean-goose, while the bird named after von Middendorf is particularly large, especially with regard to the bill, and is prone to exhibit a yellowish shade on the head, admittedly variable, however, and accidental, like the rusty stain so often found on the head of the swan. It is also admitted that there may be much more than a mere band of orange on the bill of this Eastern bean-goose, and so it seems most advisable at present to call them all simply bean-geese ; anyone who shoots a specimen can indulge in details of marking and measurement to his heart's content.