Anser indicus

Bar-headed Goose.

Anser indicus.

Kareyi Hans, Hindustani.

Although not breeding in India, but a winter visitor only, this is the wild goose of the country, visiting it in enormously greater numbers than any other species, and being far more widely distributed. The white head marked with two black cross-bars is unique among geese, but this colouring is not found in the young of the year, which have the crown brown continuous with the back of the neck. The real and most striking peculiarity is the pure light grey colour, more like that of the ordinary gulls than the usual brownish grey of geese in general: the legs are orange, and the bill the same or lighter, black-tipped. These geese seldom weigh quite six pounds.

The bar-headed goose is commonest in Upper India, but is not plentiful in the Central Provinces, and decidedly rare further south. To the east it is common in Upper Burmah, and ranges into Manipur, where it is called Kang-nai. Ceylon it does not visit at all; none of the true geese occur there, in fact, all being essentially birds of the north. From Gujarat it is also absent, but at the opposite end of India, in "Western Bengal, extremely numerous.

Like geese generally, it is eminently a gregarious bird, and the flocks are sometimes very large ; they may contain as. many as five hundred birds. Hume says that he has seen as many as ten thousand, in flocks of varying sizes from one hundred up, on a ten-mile reach on the Jumna. Of course large birds like these, in such numbers, do an enormous amount of damage to crops, all sorts of herbage, whether of pulse or grain, coming into their bill of fare, though late rice is perhaps the favourite. As they commonly feed at night, though when undisturbed they will graze up to 9 a.m., and long before dark, a great deal of harm can be done without much chance of its being averted. After a course of this sort of feeding, they are in fine condition for the table at the appropriate time of Christmas ; but when they first come in, in October, they are thin and in poor case. As a general rule they all leave for the north again in March or early April. This goose prefers rivers to standing water for its daytime rest, but, like the geese generally, does not go into the water much, but remains on the banks, with sentries set to give the alarm if required. Sometimes, however, the flocks ride at anchor, as it were, in the middle of a river or tank.

Drifting down on them in a boat, where they are found on a river, has been found a satisfactory manner of approach ; and they are often shot at flighting-time in the evening. They fly in the V- figure which is usually assumed by travelling geese, and, for such birds, are unusually active, as well as strong, on the wing. Damant records a curious example of this : " In Manipur," he says, " I have often watched them returning from their feeding grounds to the lake where they intend to pass the day; their cry is heard before they themselves can be seen; they then appear flying in the form of a wedge, each bird keeping his place with perfect regularity ; when they reach the lake they circle round once or twice, and finally, before settling, each bird tumbles over in the air two or three times precisely like a tumbler pigeon." I have seen domestic geese turn somersaults in the water when playing, but "looping the loop" is somehow a performance one hardly expects of a goose. In spring, also, in its breeding haunts, the bird chases its mate on the wing. As geese go, however, this species is graceful and active on land also; it sits high in the stern on the water, like geese generally. The note is harder and sharper than that of the grey goose, according to Hume, who says the two species can be distinguished by this alone when passing overhead at night. They do not associate, though often seen near together.

Although the bar-headed goose is found on the Kashmir lakes and elsewhere in the hills up to 7,000 ft., it does not breed in India, but in Ladakh, Central Asia and Tibet. The four or five eggs are white, and are to be found on islands in the Tsomourari lake even before the winter ice breaks up. The goslings are yellow, shaded with olive above, and have black bills and feet, as I have seen in specimens bred in Kew Gardens. The Ladakhi name for the bird is Neg-pa; the Nepalese call it Paria, and the Tamils Nir-bathu ; Birwa is also a Hindustani name.

Indian Sporting Birds
Finn, Frank. Indian Sporting Birds. Edwards, 1915.
Title in Book: 
Anser indicus
Book Author: 
Frank Finn
Page No: 
Common name: 
Bar-headed Goose
Bar-headed Goose
Anser indicus
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