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Bean Goose- Fact File
british Birds - Bean Goose
Anser fabalis
Rare and local winter visitor, mostly to East Anglia and S.W. Scotland. Most birds are of the nominate race fabalis (Taiga Bean Goose). Occasionally, the smaller, shorter-necked race rossicus (Tundra Bean Goose) occurs.
River valleys and waterside pastures.
Fairly large, dark goose. Bill typically shows extensive orange, and legs are also bright orange (duller in young birds).
70 - 90 cm (27 - 35")

Bean Goose

In addition to thousands of wigeon, together with mallard, teal and shoveler, the selection of birds at Buckenham RSPB reserve often includes bean, white-fronted and barnacle geese. Feeding and squatting in the sun and all indifferent to passing trains, bean geese have wintered in this favoured area of the Yare valley many years. In fact they form the only permanent wintering population in the country.

Research indicates that the earliest observations date back to the mid 1920s when 200 to 300 were present increasing dramatically to 5,000 in 1927 and 1,000 in 1936.

The bean geese long remained enigmatic. Even their very presence was a secret known to few. Dr Bernard Riviere's 'Birds of Norfolk' published in 1930 makes no reference to them. He was apparently unaware of any number regularly wintering in the county.

I have enjoyed watching the bean geese over a 40-year period and have witnessed their changing fortunes through the decades. Numbers have varied from a mere 25 to almost 500 birds. My diaries revive many memories.

During gale-force winds they seek the shelter of reed-fringed depressions and are then difficult to spot. I have even watched them during snowstorms; one winter they remained despite a depth of 10 inches of snow. Once, after being disturbed by a low-flying helicopter, the full skein remained airborne almost an hour before side-slipping and tumbling out of the sky. Return was accompanied by a great clamour.

Bean GooseA key factor in maintaining bean geese in the valley is the availability of secure roosts close to the feeding areas. The main site is a quite small, well hidden and tree-fringed lake. Very exceptionally the birds have roosted at Rockland Broad and on the river itself.

The enigma began lifting one winter when to everyone's surprise 22 bean geese appeared in the valley carrying neck bands. It was discovered these were from a group of 36 captured in a moulting flock of 300 non-breeding or failed breeding geese at a remote central Swedish locality during July 1987. Banded examples have continued arriving here ever since.

The Yare Beans, from the extreme south-west part of the main breeding range in central Sweden, are present on nesting grounds from late April until September. The majority head for Jutland during late September. Here they remain well hidden in a 10,000 acre reserve including a range of lakes surrounded in heathland and dunes.

Autumn gatherings of birds depart for Norfolk at intervals during mid-November to mid-December, but with late cold-weather arrivals into January. Despite often impressive numbers here the proportion of juveniles tends to be low. Perhaps most geese with families halt at an earlier stage in their migration.

It is interesting to note that the first volume of the massive 'Birds of the Western Palearctic,' published in 1977 suggested Swedish birds sought more than one wintering area including 'possibly Denmark'.

The geese remain in the Yare valley until the first half of February, leaving over a period of two weeks. Departure is rather earlier in mild winters and somewhat later in cold ones. The last extended winter here delayed exodus from East Norfolk until March 12. The majority cross the coast, at no great height, north of Caister.

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Copyright Information

  • Article: © Eastern Counties Newspapers Group
  • Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge © Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.
  • Other material: © Birds Of Britain