Introduction to geese & swans

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Geese are usually divided into two main groups: the 'grey' geese and the 'black' geese. Grey geese are all large birds with an overall brown-grey plumage mottled and streaked by various shades. The greylag goose, the ancestor of our farmyard goose, is the largest and best known. Pink-footed goose and white-fronted goose and are winter visitors from the far north.

Originally kept as an ornamental species, the egyptian goose has escaped its captivity and now breeds on large lakes and ponds in London and much of East Anglia.

Of the black geese, brent goose is a winter visitor in large numbers to our estuaries. Canada goose and barnacle goose occur in Essex as introduced species breeding on lakes and reservoirs. Both are basically black-and-white.

Swans are very large goose-like water birds that feed on aquatic vegetation, and when adult have mainly white plumage. The mute swan is the most common, breeding on any permanent water, sometimes on quite small ponds. It can be distinguished from the other two species of swan by its red bill. When flying its wings make an almost musical whine, a sound not heard from other species of swan.

Bewicks swan and whooper swan are winter visitors from the far north. They both have a bugle-like call, often given when flying in to land, and yellow-and-black bills. Bewicks swan is the more goose-like of the two and more likely to be seen in Essex, especially at Abberton Reservoir when the water level is low in autumn or winter.

© Gerald Downey