1902 Encyclopedia > Goose


GOOSE (Anglo-Saxon, Gds), the general English name for a considerable number of birds, belonging to the Family Anatidce of modern ornithologists, which are mostly larger than Ducks and less than Swans. Technically the word Goose is reserved for the female, the male being called Gander (Anglo-Saxon, Gandra).

The most important species of Goose, and the type of the genus Anser, is undoubtedly that which is the origin of our well-known domestic race, the Anser ferus or A. cinereus of most naturalists, commonly-jcalled in English the Grey or Grey Lag Goose, a bird of exceedingly wide range in the Old World, apparently breeding where suitable localities are to be found in most European, countries from Lapland to Spain and Bulgaria. Eastwaras it extends to China, but does not seem to be known in Japan. It is the only species indigenous to the British Islands, and in former days bred abundantly in the English Fen-country, where the young were caught in large numbers and kept in a more or less reclaimed condition with the vast flocks of tame-bred Geese that at one time formed so valuable a property to the dwellers in and around the Fens. It is impossible to deter-mine when the wild Grey Lag Goose ceased from breeding in England, but it certainly did so towards the end of the last century, for Daniell mentions (Rural Sports, iii. p. 242) his having obtained two broods in one season. In Scotland this Goose continues to breed sparingly in several parts of the Highlands and in certain of the Hebrides, the nests being generally placed in long heather, and the eggs seldom exceeding five or six in number. It is most likely the birds reared here that are from time to time obtained in England, for at the present day the Grey Lag Goose, though once so numerous, is, and for many years has been, the rarest species of those that habitually resort to the British Islands. The domestication of this species, as Mr Darwin remarks (Animals and Plants under Domestication, i. p. 287), is doubtless of very ancient date, and yet scarcely any other animal that has been tamed for so long a period, and bred so largely in captivity, has varied so little. It has increased greatly in size and fecundity, but almost the only change in plumage is that tame Geese lose the browner and darker tints of the wild bird, and are invariably more or less marked with white—being often indeed wholly of that colour. The most generally recognized breeds of domestic Geese are those to which the distinctive names of Emden and Toulouse are applied; but a singular breed, said to have come from Sebasfcopol, was introduced into Western Europe about the year 1856. In this the scapulars are elongated, curled, and spirally twisted, having their shaft transparent, and so thin that it often splits into fine nla* ments, which, remaining free for an inch or more, often coalesce again.

The other British species of typical Geese are the Bean-Goose (A.segetum),the Pink-footed(A.brachyrhynchus), and the White-fronted (A. albifrons). On the continent of Europe, but not yet recognized as occurring in Britain, is a small form of the last (A. erythropus) which is known to breed in Lapland. All these, for the sake of discrimination, may be divided into two groups—(1) those having the " nail" at the tip of the bill white, or of a very pale flesh colour, and (2) those in which this " nail" is black. To the former belong the Grey Lag Goose, as well as A. albi-frons and A. erythropus, and to the latter the other two. A. albifrons and A. erythropus, which hardly differ but in size,—the last being not much bigger than a Mallard (Anas boschas),—may be readily distinguished from the Grey Lag Goose by their bright orange bill and legs, and their mouse-coloured upper wing-coverts, to say nothing of their very conspicuous white face and the broad black bars which cross the belly, though the two last characters are occasion-ally observable to some extent in the Grey Lag Goose, which has the bill and legs flesh-coloured, and the upper wing-coverts of a bluish-grey. Of the second group, with the black " nail," A. segetum has the bill long, black at the base and orange in the middle; the feet are also orange, and the upper wing-coverts mouse-coloured, as in A. albifrons and A. erythropus, while A. brachyrhynchus has the bill short, bright pink in the middle, and the feet also pink, the upper wing-coverts being nearly of the same bluish-grey as in the Grey Lag Goose. Eastern Asia possesses in A. grandis a third species of this group, which chiefly differs from A. segetum in its larger size. In North America there is only one species of typical Goose, and that belongs to the white-" nailed" group. It very nearly resembles A. albi-frons, but is larger, and has been described as distinct undei the name of A. gambeli. Central Asia and India possess in the Bar-headed Goose (A. indicus) a bird easily distin-guished from any of the foregoing by the character implied by its English name; but it is certainly somewhat abnormal, and, indeed, under the name of Eulabia, has been separated from the genus Anser, which has no other member indigen-ous to the Indian Region, nor any at all to the Ethiopian, Australian, or Neotropical Regions.

But the New World possesses by far the greatest wealth of Anserine forms. Beside others, presently to be men-tioned, its northern portions are the home of all the species of Snow-Geese belonging to the genus Chen. It is true that two of these are reported as having appeared, and that not unfrequently, in Europe and Asia; but they possibly have been but stragglers from America. The first of these is C. hyperboreus, the Snow-Goose proper, a bird of large size, and when adult of a pure white, except the primaries, which are black. This has long been deemed a visitor to the Old World, and sometimes in considerable numbers, but the later discovery of a smaller form, C. albatus, scarcely differing except in size, throws some doubt on the older records, especially since examples which have recently been obtained in the British Islands undoubtedly belong to this lesser bird, and it would be satisfactory to have the occurrence in the Old World of the true 0. hyperboreus placed on a surer footing. So nearly allied to the species last , named as to have been often confounded with it, is the Blue-winged Goose, 0. cceridescens, which is said never to attain a snowy plumage. Then we have a very small species, long ago described as distinct by Hearne, the Arctic traveller, but until 1861 discredited by ornithologists. Its distinctness has now been fully recognized, and it has received, somewhat unjustly, the name of C. rossi. Its face is adorned with numerous papillae, whence it has been removed by Mr Elliot to a separate genus, Exanthemops, and for the same reason it has, for more than a cen-tury, been known to the European residents in the fur countries as the " Horned Wavey "—the last word being a rendering of a native name, Wawa, which signifies Goose. Finally, there appears to belong to this section, though it has been frequently referred to another (Chloephaga), and has also been made the type of a distinct genus (Philacte), the beautiful Painted Goose, 0. canagica, which is almost peculiar to the Aleutian Islands, though straying to the con-tinent in winter, and may be recognized by the white edg-ing of its remiges.

The southern portions of the New World are inhabited by about half a dozen species of Geese, akin to the foregoing, but separated as the genus Chloephaga. The most noticeable of them are the Rock or Kelp Goose, C. antárctica, and the Upland Goose, C. magellanica. In both of these the sexes are totally unlike in colour, the male being nearly white, while the female is of a mottled brown, but in others a greater similarity obtains. Very nearly allied to the birds of this group, if indeed that can be justifiably separ-ated, comes one which belongs to the northern hemisphere, and is common to the Old World as well as the New. It contains the Geese which have received the common names of Bernacles or Brents, and the scientific appellations of Bernicla and Branta—for the use of either of which much may be said by nomeuclaturists. All the species of this sec-tion are distinguished by their general dark sooty colour, relieved in someby white of greater or less purity, and by way of distinction from the members of the genus Anser, which are known as Grey Geese, are frequently called by fowlers Black Geese. Of these, the best known both in Europe and North America is the Brent-Goose—the Anas bernicla of Linnaeus, and the B. torquata of many modern writers—a truly marine bird, seldom (in Europe at least) quitting salt-water, and coming southward in vast flocks towards autumn, frequenting bays and estuaries on our coasts, where it lives chiefly on sea-grass (Zostera marítima). It is known to breed in Spitsbergen and in Greenland. A form which is by some ornithologists deemed a good species, and called by them B. nigricans, occurs chiefly on the Pacific coast of North America. In it the black of the neck, which in the common Brent terminates just above the breast, exteuds over most of the lower parts. The true Bernacle-Goose, the B. leucopsis of most authors, is but a casual visitor to North America, but is said to breed in Iceland, and occasionally in Norway. Its usual incunabula, however, still form one of the puzzles of the ornithologist, and the diffi-culty is not lessened by the fact that it will breed freely in semi-captivity, while the Brent-Goose will not. From the latter the Bernacle-Goose is easily distinguished by its larger size and white cheeks. Hutchins's Goose (B. Hutchinsi) seems to be its true representative in the New World. In this the face is dark, but a white crescentic or triangular patch extends from the throat on either side upwards behind the eye. Almost exactly similar in colora-tion to the last, but greatly superior in size, and possessing 18 rectrices, while all the foregoing have but 16, is the common wild Goose of America, B. canadensis, which, for some two centuries or more, has been introduced into Europe, where it propagates so freely that it has been included by nearly all the ornithologists of this quarter of the globe, as a member of its fauna. An allied form, by some deemed a species, is B. leucopareia, which ranges over the western part of North America, and, though having 18 rectrices, is distinguished by a white collar round the lower part of the neck. The most diverse species of this group of Geese are the beautiful B. ruficollis, a native of North eastern Asia, which occasionally strays to Western Europe, and has been obtained more than once in Britain, and that which is peculiar to the Hawaian archipelago, B. sandvi censis.

The largest living Goose is that called the Chinese, Guinea, or Swan-Goose, Cygnopsis cygnoides, and it seems to be the stock whence the domestic Geese of several Eastern countries have sprung. It may not unfrequently be seen in English farmyards, and it is found to cross readily with our common tame Goose, the offspring being fertile, and Blyth has said that these crosses are very abundant in India. The true home of the species is in Eastern Siberia or Mongolia. It is distinguished by its upright bearing, which has been well rendered by Bewick's excellent figure. The Ganders of the reclaimed form are distinguished by the knob at the base of the bill, but the evidence of many observers shows that this is not found in the wild race. Of this bird there is a perfectly white breed.

We have next to mention a very curious form, Cereopsis novcv-hollandice, which is peculiar to Australia, and appears to be a more terrestrial type of Goose than any other now existing. Its sjiort, decurved bill and green cere give it a very peculiar expression, and its almost uniform grey plumage, bearing rounded black spots, is also remarkable. It bears captivity well, breeding in confinement, and may be seen in many parks and gardens. It appears to have been formerly very abundant in many parts of Australia, from which it has of late been exterminated. Some of its peculiarities seem to have been still more exaggerated in a bird that is wholly extinct, the Cnemiornis calcitrans of New Zealand, the remains of which were described in full by Professor Owen in 1873 (Trans. Zool. Society, ix. p. 253). Among the first portions of this singular bird that were found were the tibice, presenting an extraordinary development of the patella, which, united with the shank-bone, gave rise to the generic name applied. For some time the affinity of the owner of this wonderful structure was in doubt, but all hesitation was dispelled by the dis-covery of a nearly perfect skeleton, now in the British Museum, which proved the bird to be a Goose, of great size, and unable, from the shortness of its wings, to fly.

In correlation with this loss of power may also be noted the dwindling of the keel of the sternum. Generally, however, its osteological characters point to an affinity to Cereopsis, as was noticed by Dr Hector (Trans. New Zeal. Institute, vi. pp. 76-84), who first determined its Anserine character.

Birds of the genera Chenalopex (the Egyptian and Orinoco Geese), Plectropterus, Sarcidiomis, Chlamydochen, and some others, are commonly called Geese. To the writer seems uncertain whether they should be grouped with the Anserince. The males of all appear to have that curious enlargement at the junction of the bronchial tubes and the
trachea which is so characteristic of the Ducks or Anatince. As much may be said for the genus Nettapus, but want of space precludes further consideration of the subject here. (A. N.)


The meaning and derivation of this word Lag had long "been a puzzle until Prof. Skeat suggested (Ibis, 1870, p. 301) that it signified late, last, or slow, as in laggard, a loiterer, lagman, the last man, lagteeth, the posterior molar or "wisdom" teeth (as the last to appear), and lagclock, a clock that is behind time. Thus the Grey Lag Goose is the Grey Goose which in England when the name was given was not migratory hut lagged behind the other wild species at the season when they betook themselves to their northern breeding-quarters. In connexion with this word, however, must be noticed the curious fact mentioned by the late Mr Rowley (Orn. Miscell., iii. p. 213), that to this day the flocks of tame Geese in Lincolnshire are urged on by their drivers with the cry of " Lag'em, Lag'em."

From the times of the Romans white Geese have been held in great estimation, and hence, doubtless, they have been preferred as breeding stock, but the practice of plucking Geese alive, continued for so many centuries, has not improbably also helped to perpetuate this variation, for it is well known to many bird-keepers that a white feather is often produced in place of one of the natural colour that has been pulled out.

3 Want of space forbids our entering on the breeding of tame Geese, which was formerly so largely practised in some English counties, especially Norfolk and Lincoln. It was no uncommon thing for a man to keep a stock of a thousand, each of which might be reckoned to rear on an average seven Goslings. The flocks were regularly taken to pasture and water, just as sheep are, and the man who tended them was called the Gooseherd, corrupted into Gozzerd. The birds were plucked five times in the year, and in autumn the flocks were driven to London or other large markets. They travelled at the rate of about a mile an hour, and would get over nearly ten miles in the day. For further particulars the reader may be referred to Pennant's British Zoology; Montagu's Ornithological Dictionary; Latham's General History of Birds; and Rowley's Ornithological Miscellany (iii. pp. 206-215), where some account also may be found of the Goose-fatting at Strasburg, which, since the reconquest of Alsace, has been transferred to the south of France.

See Sclater and Salvin, Proc. Zool. Society, 1876, pp. 361-369.
The etymology of these two words is exceedingly obscure, and no useful purpose could be attained by discussing it here, especially as any disquisition upon it must needs be long. Suffice it to say that the ordinary spelling Bernicle seems to be wrong, if we may judge from the analogy of the French Bernache. In both words the e should be sounded as a.

The old fable, perhaps still believed by the uneducated in some parts of the world, of Bernacle-Geese being produced from the Ber-nacles (Lepadidm) that grow on timber exposed to salt-water, is not more absurd than many that in darker ages had a great hold of the popular mind, and far less contemptible than the conceited spirit in which many modern zoologists and botanists often treat it. They should remember that the doctrine of spontaneous generation has still many adherents, and that seems to be hardly less extravagant than the notion of birds growing from " worms," as they were then called. The mistake of our forefathers is of course evident, but that is no reason for deriding their innocent ignorance as some of our contem-poraries are fond of doing.

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