Bean Goose

You are incredibly lucky if you see this rare goose as it is normally only found in two places in Britain: the Slamannan Plateau, in Falkirk, Scotland, and the Yare Marshes in Norfolk, England. Originally thought to be one species, the Bean Goose is now split into two, the Taiga and the Tundra, based on a slight difference in bill colours. The Taiga is the one that comes to Britain and overwinters here from October to March. It is normally just called a Bean Goose. They like lakes or flooded fields close to farmland where they can feed.

The Bean Goose is slightly smaller than a Greylag. It is a tall, elegant goose, mostly brown with a very dark neck and head. The brown breast has fine barring. There is a white line at the edge of its wings, and a small white patch at the base of its tail. The bill is yellow and black. Apart from its orange legs, it is a bit of a brown job. It flies in the traditional goose V-formation and you can easily see the dark upper wing and its long neck. Their call is a “ung-ank".

The Bean Goose eats grass seeds, roots, berries, clover, and potatoes. It got its Bean Goose name because it also enjoys grazing bean field stubble. This doesn’t make it a big favourite of farmers, though they do comparatively minor damage.

The Bean Goose (Taiga) is unique because it nests in dense coniferous and birch forests in Northern Europe. (The Tundra species nests on the Siberian tundra, hence its name). They mate for life and their courting takes several weeks. Once they have paired up, a "Triumph Ceremony" is performed where they put their heads close together and sing to each other. They often repeat the ceremony as a way to renew their bonding and to strengthen family ties when their youngsters are driving them mad! An average of 4–6 white to pale straw-coloured eggs are laid in a scrape or shallow nest of vegetation lined with warm down. The eggs are incubated for 25 to 29 days before hatching. The youngsters can feed themselves almost immediately and the young goslings fledge 40 days later. They are fully independent after a further 2.5 months. Mum and dad do their moult after raising the family and are flightless for a month before coming here. The family will stay together for their first winter.

About 450 Bean Geese over winter In Britain and are often seen with White-fronted Geese. Their Latin name is ’anser fabalis’ where ’anser’ is the Latin for ‘goose’, and ’fabalis’ comes from the Latin ’faba’ for ‘broad bean’.

White-fronted Goose

The White-fronted Goose is the most numerous goose in Europe during the winter, but is rarer in Britain. Like many geese, they breed on the Arctic tundra before overwintering here. Two distinct groups arrive in October: Greenland ones come to Scotland and ones Russian come to England, particularly East Anglia. They stay until March and like wet meadows and farmland close to lakes or estuaries.

The White-fronted Goose is smaller than a Greylag Goose and has a grey-brown head, neck and body with a distinctive white forehead (hence its name). There are black bars on the belly and the brown back is crossed with pale lines. Their legs are orange and the bill is a pinky orange. An agile goose whose speciality is a vertical take-off and flying in neat V-formations. They have a squeaky-wheel-like "will-a-wik" call.

They roost in large flocks that break up into smaller feeding groups during the day to eat grasses, roots, seeds, potatoes, and sugar beet. They are picky about the grasses they like, favourites being couch grass, cotton grass, and horsetail.

At two years old, White-fronted Geese partner up and then stay together for life. They wait for a year while agreeing on domestic arrangements before raising a family. The nest is a shallow affair made of vegetation on the ground and sparsely lined with down and feathers. The 3–7 creamy or pinkish pale buff eggs hatch after 22 to 28 days. Mum does all the sitting while dad proudly stands guard. Both parents defend and feed the newly hatched goslings. Arctic weather conditions are a key factor for the breeding success of White-fronted Geese. There is only about three months to make a nest, incubate the eggs, and raise the youngsters until they are able to fly. While raising the young, the parents do their moult. They moult all their flight feathers simultaneously and they are flightless for 25 days while the youngsters grow. An early onset of the Arctic winter can be deadly for both parents and young when they are all flightless.

About 20,000 White-fronted Geese overwinter in Britain with nearly half of all Greenland Geese coming to Scotland. The drainage of farmland has restricted areas where they can be found. In recent decades, the number of Russian birds wintering in England has fallen sharply, with milder winters allowing birds to remain in the Netherlands rather than crossing the Channel to come here. The oldest known White-fronted Goose lived for 17 years.

Their Latin name is 'anser albifrons' where 'albifrons' comes from the Latin 'albus' for 'white' and 'frons' for 'forehead'. The 'anser' is Latin for 'goose'. The White-fronted Goose is also called a 'specklebelly'.

Pink-footed Goose

You guessed it, a Pink-footed Goose has pink feet, but so do other geese, so not such a brilliant name after all, though its feet are the brightest pink ones around. Pinked-nose Goose would have been better. The Pink-footed Goose is another goose that overwinters here, arriving in October and leaving in April, and is often seen in large flocks around estuaries and freshwater lakes.

The Pink-footed Goose is smaller than a Greylag Goose. It has a short dark neck, rounded head and a black bill with a pink tip. The overall plumage is a pinkish-brown and pale edges to the dark feathers gives it a barred appearance. There is a white line on the body below the wings and it has pink legs and feet. The short neck and grey forewings are obvious in flight. Overall, it looks more compact than other geese. It is also a much better formation flyer, with skeins ('strings') of geese keeping in a neat V-shape, while making a musical "wink, wink" call to keep together. No-one is quite sure why skeins of geese fly in a V-shape, though the benefits are probably aerodynamic, reducing the effort of flying when not the one at the front.

They eat grains, root crops and grass, feeding on farmland during the day before returning to the safety of a lake or estuary at night. Although they graze on farmland, they cause little damage and may even help by gleaning leaves and roots left behind after a crop is harvested, reducing the transmission of diseases.

The Pink-footed Goose pairs for life and breeds in Iceland and Greenland. They nest in inaccessible river gorges where they are safe from ground predators. In May, they lay 3-6 eggs which hatch after 27 days. The goslings accompany their parents on foot to the nearest lake, where they fledge after about 56 days while mum and dad do their moult before flying here. Both mum and dad help look after the youngsters and the family will stay together for their first winter.

About 372,000 individuals spend the winter in Britain, 90% of the world's population of Pink-footed Geese. Numbers have increased in recent years, particularly in Scotland. This might be connected to the increased growing of barley, which they love, and the increased protection from shooting on their wintering grounds. There are two largely discrete populations of Pink-footed Goose. The Greenland and Iceland population which winter in Great Britain, and a smaller Svalbard population which winters in the Netherlands and Denmark. The oldest known bird lived to be 38 years old!

Their Latin name is 'anser brachyrhynchus' where 'anser' is Latin for 'goose' and 'brachyrhynchus' comes from the ancient Greek 'brachus' for 'short' and 'rhunchos' for 'bill'. A goose with a short (pink tipped) bill.

Barnacle Goose

In medieval times, the Barnacle Goose was confused with the Brent Goose, which was silly because they look completely different. They also thought they hatched from barnacles, hence the name, which was even sillier. Like the Brent Goose, the Barnacle Goose migrates from the artic areas of Greenland to overwinter on our coastal lowlands, arriving here in October and leaving in March.

The Barnacle Goose is a medium-sized goose, smaller than a Canada Goose. It has a black neck and breast, a creamy white face, and barred back. The underparts are pale with black legs and a white tail. It is thought the white tail helps them keep together when flying in their noisy family V-formations. When flying, they look black and white with pointed wings. Their call is a single high-pitched bark, "rak!", that sounds like a yapping dog.

Barnacle Geese eat grass and other vegetation. They will use their bill to pull up roots which doesn't make them a favourite of farmers when they uproot the autumn sown crops.

Barnacle Geese pair for life and breed in the Arctic. They nest on inaccessible cliff faces near the sea to be safe from Arctic Foxes. Once hatched, the parents show the young goslings the way to jump down from the cliff and the goslings follow them by instinct and take the plunge. Their small size, feathery down, and very light weight helps to protect them from any serious injury. The parents then lead them to places where they can find food. The goslings are not out of danger, as the Arctic Foxes can stalk the young as they are being led to the wetland feeding areas. Sadly, only 50% of the chicks survive their first month. The ones that do survive, stay with their parents for their first winter.

About 90,000 Barnacle Geese overwinter here, mainly in Scotland and their numbers have increased over the last 50 years. Like other geese, they are specially protected.

Their Latin name is 'branta leucopsis' where 'branta' is from Old Norse 'brandgas' for 'burnt (black) goose' because they are black and 'leucopsis' is from Ancient Greek 'leukos' for 'white' and 'opsis' for 'faced'. A black goose with a white face is spot on. Like Brent Geese, because medieval people thought they hatched from barnacles, they were counted as fish and could be eaten on a Friday.

Brent Goose

The Brent Goose is a winter visiting goose, having spent a brief summer break breeding in the artic. They leave the arctic in September to arrive here in October before leaving for the artic again in March. It is our smallest goose, though very elegant in its black finery.

The Brent Goose has a small black head with a white patch on the side of the neck, like a tiny necklace. A dark brown body, dark belly, black legs, and a black bill. A bit of a goth goose. The underparts are variable, but under the tail is always white. The wings look pointed in flight, and they fly in lines rather than the more traditional goose V-formation. Goths like to be different. Their call is a ""warunk" which is made mostly when landing or taking off - to show how tricky it is. There are two types of Brent Goose; the 'dark bellied' where their underparts are almost as dark as their upperparts and the 'pale bellied' where their underparts are a lighter grey-brown. The Brent Goose is flightless for 3 weeks during July to August while it is moulting.

Brent Geese are veggies, eating plants on land and in water, especially eel grass. They feed at winter feeding grounds on estuaries or the seacoast where eel grass, seaweed and sea lettuce is abundant.

The Brent Goose breeds in the Arctic tundra. Breeding must take place within a 100 days before the Arctic snow and ice return. Nesting often starts before all the snow has melted. Bad weather or the early onset of winter has a big impact on their breeding success. The 'dark bellied' breed in Arctic Siberia whereas the 'light bellied' prefer Artic Greenland. Although the Arctic summer is short, food for the geese is plentiful while they are there. They nest in loose colonies on flat tundra areas near ponds and lakes or on islands. The nest is a shallow depression lined with plant material and goose down. Egg laying usually occurs in mid-June. Mum incubates the 3 to 5 eggs for 24-26 days while the male stands guard as Polar Bears, Arctic Foxes, Glaucous Gulls and Arctic Skuas can all take the eggs or chicks. The chicks abandon the nest soon after they have hatched and can fly six weeks later. They stay together as a family group until the following year.

A Brent Goose can live for 19 years or more. About 100,000 overwinter here, nearly half of the world's population. Loss of eel grass marshes in the 1930s led to a decline in their numbers, but restoration of marshland has helped them recover.

Their Latin name is 'branta bernicla' where 'branta' is the Latinised form of Old Norse 'brandgas' meaning 'burnt (black) goose' and 'bernicla' is the medieval Latin name for a barnacle as people in medieval times though they came from barnacles as they didn't understand where they went in the summer. An important medieval man called John Gerard even claimed to have seen the birds emerging from their shells. The legend persisted until the end of the 18th century. In County Kerry, until relatively recently, Catholics could eat a Brent Goose on a Friday because it counted as fish, so was allowed.

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Geese were considered sacred by the Ancient Egyptians and appeared in much of their artwork. They became popular in posh houses for looking pretty on their ornamental lakes and then escaped from Norfolk to spread across most of East Anglia and Southern England.

The Egyptian Goose is a good sized, sturdy goose that looks like it has had a bad make-up day. The male and female are identical with the male being slightly larger (not that you can tell). They are buff brown with a darker reddish brown back and pale grey underparts. There is a narrow neck band, dark mascara patch round the eye, and a dark spot on the breast. The wings are also dark with green and white patches, the white being very visible when flying. Their bill and feet are pink. Generally, the Egyptian Goose is silent. The male occasionally makes a husky wheezing call that sounds like a steam engine. The female sometimes makes a high pitched, unstoppable series of nagging "onk, onk, onk, onk!" Egyptian Geese are mainly vegetarians, to keep their figure, and feed on leaves, grasses and seeds.

The male Egyptian Goose attracts a female with an elaborate, noisy courtship that includes honking, neck stretching and feather displays. They mainly breed in posh parkland, reservoirs or lowland lakes, especially ornamental ones where they can look pretty. The nest is built in early spring from a mound of leaves and reeds. They are not too fussy where it is and can make it on a bank, in holes, or in trees (by using old nests of larger birds). They lay 8-9 eggs which hatch after 28 days. The young can soon feed themselves and are cared for by both parents. The youngsters can fly after 75 days, though the family stays together for months before they become fully independent. After all, it takes a while to learn how to put make-up on when you are a goose. Mum and dad are aggressively territorial when breeding and will frequently pursue intruders into the air, attacking them in aerial dogfights.

The Egyptian Goose is resident in Britain with about 2,500 breeding adults. Their Latin name is 'alopochen aegyptiacus' which comes from the Greek 'alopex' for 'fox' and 'chen' for goose because of the ruddy colour of their back. 'Aegyptius' is Latin for 'Egyptian'. Egyptian foxy goose is right for something that looks so exotic.


The colourful Shelduck is one of our largest ducks, growing as big as some geese. It can be found all around the coast on inlets and estuaries, and on reservoirs and gravel pits.

The Shelduck is black and white with a dark green head and neck. It has a chestnut band on its breast, a red bill, pink legs and a black-tipped tail. The males differ from the female by having a bigger red bulge at the base of its bill. The Shelduck's black wingtips and shoulders are obvious in flight and this helps tell them apart from other flying ducks. It is a fairly silent bird with the female occasionally giving a growling, "ark, ark, ark!" call.

They eat shellfish, shrimps, small fish, water plants, and other water insects from filtering mud and have specially adapted tooth-like projections on each side of their bills to do this. Their favourite food are tiny water snails called Hydrobia. They upend themselves to get at submerged food, showing off their black tummy, chestnut bum, and black-tipped tail.

Shelducks are monogamous and will mate for life. They are sociable birds and live in large flocks, leaving their young chicks in creches with just one or two adults to look after them. In April, they make a nest of grass or straw in an enclosed site like a rabbit burrow in a dune, under a building, or in a haystack. They lay 8-10 eggs which hatch after 29 days. Like other ducks, the young can feed themselves within hours of hatching. The parents soon dump their youngsters into a Shelduck creche, or play group, and fly off to the traditional moulting areas like Bridgewater Bay in Somerset. The moulting flocks can be very large (100,000 have been recorded on the Wadden Sea). While moulting, they are flightless for 4 weeks. Meanwhile, the youngsters left in the creche become independent after 20 days and can fly at 43 days. Until they can fly, the young Shelducks will dive under water to avoid predators while the supervising adults fly away, acting as a decoy.

There are 50,000 Shelducks in Britain. Their Latin name is 'tadorna tadorna' and comes from the French name 'tadorne'. This may originally have come from Celtic for 'pied waterfowl'. The English 'shelduck' also means 'pied duck'.

Greylag Goose

The Greylag Goose is the ancestor of the white domestic goose. How they got them to go white, I have no idea. It must have taken a lot of selective breeding. There are two groups of Greylag Geese in Britain, a small native population found wearing kilts in Scotland and a large feral population found everywhere else from various, well intended, introductions.

The Greylag Goose has a brown back that looks barred with a paler head, neck, and belly that looks mottled. The neck has some dark lines down the side. They have a heavy orange bill, and orangey pink legs. The wings are broad with bluish grey patches and the feathers under the tail are white, giving it a prominent white rear. They have a loud nasal, honking "ank, ank, ank" call when flying, in lines or v-formations, to make sure everyone is keeping up. Like Canada Geese, they are flightless for 4 weeks sometime between May and August while doing their moult.

The Greylag Goose is a herbivore and eats plant material like roots, tubers, leaves, grass, flowers, and water weeds. They feed on farmland or meadows by day and roost on water overnight. Their large powerful bill is great for grazing and digging up roots and, in parts of Europe, this has made them a pest as they can damage crops.

In spring, Greylag Geese travel to their northerly breeding grounds in Scotland and the Hebrides, nesting on moorlands, marshes, around lakes and on coastal islands. They normally mate for life. The nest is built on the ground, near water or under a tree or bush, and is made from a mound of vegetation lined with grass and feathers. They lay 4-6 eggs which hatch after 27 days and the young goslings can fly 50 days later. Like other geese, the youngsters stay with their parents for their first winter.

In Britain, there are about 50,000 Greylags here during the summer increasing to 230,000 in autumn as geese from as far north as Iceland migrate here to their traditional wintering grounds. Their Latin name is 'anser anser' where 'anser' means 'goose'. Another thrilling scientific name 'goosey goosey'. The English name is thought to come from the fact that Greylags left a little later than other geese when moving north to breed so 'lagged' behind them.

In Ancient Egypt, geese symbolised the sun god Ra while in Ancient Rome they were associated with the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Their feathers were used as quill pens and for the fletch on arrows.

Canada Goose

The Canada Goose was first introduced in the late 17th century as an addition to King James II's waterfowl collection in St. James's Park and also to look picturesque on the lakes of big stately homes. It can now be found widely across Britain and in some areas is considered a bit of a pest, especially when eating the golf club fairway or jamming up the air intake of a jet engine.

Canada Geese have a brown body, pale brown chest and sides, black neck and head with a broad white chinstrap, and a white bum under their tail. The bill and feet are also black. Their call is a relatively deep, loud trumpeting "mmm-ruk!".

Being primarily herbivores, they feed on plants both in the water and on land by grasping them with their bill, then tearing them up with a jerk of the head. They much prefer lawn grass in urban areas. Parks and football pitches are favourite spots provided they have wide open areas with a good view so the flock can avoid potential predators while they picnic. They will also eat fruits and seeds. At night, they roost on water or mud banks.

The Canada Goose's nest is a pile of leaves and grass built near water by the female and defended by the male. It is often on islands or under the shelter of a bush. The female lines the nest with feathers from her own body. The 5-6 eggs are laid in March and hatch after 28 days. The young goslings leave the nest pretty soon after hatching as they can walk, swim and find food almost immediately. The parents are often seen leading their goslings in a line, usually with one adult at the front, and the other bringing up the rear. Both parents feed the youngsters and mum keeps them warm at night. The goslings can fly after 40 days and the family group will stay together for their first winter. The young geese themselves won't start breeding for another two or three years.

Canada Geese moult their flight feathers all at the same time so are flightless for 3-4 weeks in June to July, often travelling north to places like the Beauly Firth in Scotland to moult before returning south in September. There are 62,000 Canada Geese in Britain. Their Latin name is 'branta canadensis' where 'branta' is a Latinised form of Old Norse 'brandgas' meaning 'burnt (black) goose' and 'canadensis' means 'from Canada'.