Sunday 18 September 2022

Greylag Geese

Julia was in the Flower Walk and photographed the familiar Coal Tit, which took ten pine nuts as a modelling fee.

Virginia's picture of a Blue Tit clinging to a crabapple twig.

She also sent two more evening pictures of the Cormorant at the island in a very strange attitude ...

... and flying away.

David Element got a fine shot of Rose-Ringed Parakeets squabbling in a treetop ...

... and a Little Egret on a willow. This picture wasn't taken in the park, but we are beginning to see them here and they are expected to become commoner.

He also sent in interesting top view of a Banded Demoiselle on a leaf. They are the deluxe model of damselfly with extra chrome.

My own picture of one beside the Serpentine, taken some years ago, shows the black patches on its wings. At rest these don't look like bands, but when the insect flies they blur into black streaks on either side of its body.

Neil's portrait of a Carrion Crow near the Albert Memorial.

I saw a crow near the leaf yard with a piece of cooked chicken. People wouldn't bring that to feed the parakeets, so the crow must have stolen it from somewhere.

A Robin sings on the wooden handrail of the steps near the bridge.

A few yards away, a Wren makes a fuss in its favourite lime tree on Buck Hill.

Starlings at the Lido restaurant take a break from raiding tables and attack an ants' nest.

Today's bird is the Greylag Goose.

They were almost exterminated in England by wildfowlers in the 19th century, and the population had to be reinforced by geese brought down from Scotland. They are now common again.

For a long time there were more Greylags than Canada Geese in the park, but in the last year the Canadas have overtaken them, probably because of their successful breeding strategy where pairs cooperate to look after each other's goslings. Greylags don't do this, though families do sometimes unite. 

This year, after two pairs had lost all their goslings except one, the survivor found itself with four adults looking after it.

They are attentive parents and guard their young fiercely.

Three goslings preen beside the Serpentine.

But it's a perilous life in the park. They nest on the ground, though occasionally they may find a tree where they can land on a broad branch and use a hole in the manner of an Egyptian Goose.

In a ground nest they are exposed to constant attack by the foxes that throng the park, and their goslings are all too likely to be snatched by gulls and crows. In recent years many pairs have taken to nesting in safer places outside the park and bringing in their young as soon as they can fly.

In June large numbers of Greylags -- and also other geese -- fly into the park to moult. While flightless they are safe on the broad expanse of the lake. Here is a Greylag trying out its newly regrown wings. They have to rebalance themselves to get used to the superior performance of new feathers compared to last year's frayed ones.

Even when airworthy there is constant danger from dogs let off the lead by their idiotic owners. Here they see a dog approaching and get airborne just in time.

Relations with the larger Canadas are not always cordial. Here pairs of Greylags and Canadas exchange insults.

Ganders like to do this in front of their mates to show how tough they are, after which they will run back and the pair will have a little triumph ceremony, standing up tall and honking at each other. Carelessly, I have neglected to take a picture of this.

Sometimes actual fights break out. The ganders wallop each other while their mates urge them on from the sidelines.

They are curious about new objects. Long ropes were recently added to the lifebelts beside the Serpentine, and a Greylag investigated.

Here is a family washing together, and some individual action including turning upside down which geese and swans like to do to get a thorough rinse.

Their diet is not just the close-cropped grass on the lawns bordering her lake, Here they are eating long grass, weeds, a carefully planted wildflower patch, a cabbage palm, dead leaves and bark, and lastly enjoying an apple which someone oddly gave them but it was a success and the goose had to fend off an envious Canada.

Or course people give them bread, which they love but it's not good for them. However, they draw the line at Arab flatbread. No birds seem to like this dry papery stuff.

Occasionally they interbreed with Canada Geese, and there are usually a few of the resulting hybrids in the park. The two species belong to different genera: Greylags are Anser anser and Canadas Branta canadensis. Hybrids are sterile.

But that's not the case with Bar-Headed Geese, Anser indicus. Two hybrid Bar-Headed x Greylag Geese that are often seen on the Serpentine had a pure Bar-Headed grandmother in St James's Park who mated with a Greylag and then with one of her own offspring -- birds have such genetic variability that they can survive considerable inbreeding. They are three-quarters Bar-Headed and a quarter Greylag. One looks exactly like a pure-bred Bar-Head, the other has a slightly speckled head. Both have the very long wings of Bar-Heads which in their native India migrate over the Himalayas at altitudes of more than 25,000 ft.

We also see escaped domestic geese or hybrids between wild Greylags and domestic ones (which are often genetically Greylag but bred up for large size). Often these are West of England Geese, which have white patches and blue eyes.


  1. The Linda Evangelista of birds, although our Coal Tit's demands are far more modest.

    The portrait of the crow is amazing. Intelligence is glinting off its eyes.

    It's amazing that Canadas and Greylags know each other's dialects well enough to trade insults and be understood while doing so!

    1. Dealing with crows is dealing with equals, but at the same time knowing that they are utterly unscrupulous. I love their piratical attitude but would not buy a used car from one, should it be offered.

      I think the goose lexicon of insults is much the same for all species, though Egyptians don't have that head-down looking-up posture.

  2. Some lovely shots from all. Enjoyed the scrum over the ants with the Starlings, the fighting Greylags & of course the exquisite Banded demoiselles; a reminder of summer as it ebbs away.

    Hope your condition is improving Ralph, but enjoying the historical shots & those of your various contributors.

    1. Thank you. If all goes well I hope to return to the park on Wednesday for a short owl finding expedition.