If you read my Bird List blog in January you will know that Bean Goose is going to become two species next January. Well, that is not true actually – it is already two species and has been for thousands of years – but from January it will be on the British List as two species which is far more important!! These will be called Tundra Bean Goose and Taiga Bean Goose. I already explained why the BOU are changing the list but I thought you might like to know why these geese are considered separate species ……..(more puzzling really is why the BOU didn’t already have them on the list as two species!) If you go on a trip to Finland and Norway you are likely to see both species of Bean Goose – but in different habitats.
Starting in Finland you will see Taiga Bean Goose in a habitat of boggy swamps with scattered, stunted conifers known as Taiga.
Further north you will find Tundra Bean Goose in open Tundra with no trees. The important thing to realise here is – these geese stay separate. They breed in different habitats, they do not interbreed, they don’t migrate together and you rarely see mixed flocks. Given that their range overlaps so much, this lack of any hybridisation is strongly suggestive that they are separate species.
They look a bit different too. Tundra Beans have a more Pink-footed Goose-like look while somehow still being obviously a Bean Goose. They look more compact than Taiga Bean Geese with a shorter neck and the head is darker and rounder. The bill is also smaller and is less wedge-shaped and usually dark with a small orange spot near the tip. Taigas, on the other hand, look longer necked with a longer more wedge shaped bill compared in shape by some to Whooper Swan! They look a slightly warmer brown without any contrast in head colour and the neck is rather long. They usually have much more orange in the bill. The differences are subtle – but they are there and probably no harder than telling Marsh and Willow tit apart for most birds – though a few individuals can be horrible difficult.
In the UK, they are rarely seen together and you can go and see Taiga Bean Geese in two key areas. One flock of around 200, winters near the village of Slamannan, near Falkirk, where they can be a challenge to find in the rolling countryside. Another flock winters in the Yare Valley in Norfolk. Tundra Bean Goose, on the other hand, occurs in small groups or singles mixed with other geese – two or three perhaps in a flock of Pink-footed Geese. Away from the main two wintering flocks Taiga Bean Goose is extremely rare, so if you find a single Bean Goose in a flock of other geese it is very likely to be a Tundra Bean Goose. Beware that bill colour is variable with both species, so don’t assume that a bird with more orange in the bill must be a Taiga and via versa (see comparison picture for other differences).
So, why not get out and make sure you have seen both of these interesting geese before next January so that when the BOU changes the British List in January next year you can have two ticks on your list!