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Anser (bird)

Temporal range: Miocene-Holocene
Pair of greylag geese, Anser anser
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Tribe: Anserini
Vigors 1825
Genus: Anser
Brisson, 1760
Type species
Anas anser[1]

and see text


Chen Boie, 1822 (but see text)
Cygnopsis Brandt, 1836
Cycnopsis Agassiz, 1846 (emendation)
Eulabeia Reichenbach, 1852
Philacte Bannister, 1870
Heterochen Short, 1970 (but see text)

Anser is a waterfowl genus that includes the grey geese and the white geese. It belongs to the true goose and swan subfamily of Anserinae under the family of Anatidae.[2] The genus has a Holarctic distribution, with at least one species breeding in any open, wet habitats in the subarctic and cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in summer. Some also breed farther south, reaching into warm temperate regions. They mostly migrate south in winter, typically to regions in the temperate zone between the January 0 °C (32 °F) and 5 °C (41 °F) isotherms.

The genus contains 11 living species.[2]


The species of this genus span nearly the whole range of true goose shapes and sizes. The largest are the bean, greylag and swan geese at up to around 4 kg (9 lb) in weight (with domestic forms far exceeding this), and the smallest are the lesser white-fronted and Ross's geese, which ranges from about 1.3 to 2.3 kg (3–5 lb).[3]

All have legs and feet that are pink, or orange, and bills that are pink, orange, or black. All have white under- and upper-tail coverts, and several have some extent of white on their heads. The neck, body and wings are grey or white, with black or blackish primary—and also often secondary—remiges (pinions). The three species of "white geese" (emperor, snow and Ross's geese) were formerly treated as a separate genus Chen, but are now generally included in Anser. The closely related "black" geese in the genus Branta differ in having black legs, and generally darker body plumage.[3]

Systematics, taxonomy and evolution

The genus Anser was introduced by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760.[4] The name comes from the Latin word anser meaning "goose"[5] used as the specific epithet for the greylag goose (Anas anser) introduced by Linnaeus in 1758, that epithet was repeated to become its generic name as the type species.[6][7]


The evolutionary relationships between Anser geese have been difficult to resolve because of their rapid radiation during the Pleistocene and frequent hybridization.[8][9] In 2016 Ottenburghs and colleagues published a study that established the phylogenetic relationships between the species by comparing exonic DNA sequences.[10]


Bar-headed goose (Anser indicus)

Emperor goose (Anser canagicus)

Ross's goose (Anser rossii)

Snow goose (Anser caerulescens)

Greylag goose (Anser anser)

Swan goose (Anser cygnoides)

Taiga bean goose (Anser fabalis)

Pink-footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus)

Tundra bean goose (Anser serrirostris)

Greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons)

Lesser white-fronted goose (Anser erythropus)


The genus contains 11 species:[2]

Image Scientific name Common name Distribution
Anser indicus Bar-headed goose Breeds in highlands of Central Asia; winters in South Asia, Myanmar and southern China; introduced in Europe
Anser canagicus Emperor goose Near the Pacific coast in Alaska, Russian Far East and Canada
Anser rossii Ross's goose Breeds in northern Canada and Alaska; winters in contiguous United States and northern Mexico
Anser caerulescens Snow goose Breeds in northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland; winters in contiguous United States and northern Mexico
Anser anser Greylag goose Europe, Asia and North Africa
Anser cygnoides Swan goose Breeds in Mongolia, northernmost China and southeastern Russia; winters in southeastern China
Anser fabalis Taiga bean goose Breeds in Russia, Finland, Norway and Sweden; winters in Europe, and Central and East Asia
Anser serrirostris Tundra bean goose Breeds in northern Russia; winters in Europe, and Central and East Asia
Anser brachyrhynchus Pink-footed goose Breeds in Iceland, Svalbard and Greenland; winters in northwestern Europe
Anser albifrons Greater white-fronted goose Breeds in northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland and northern Russia; winters in contiguous United States, northern Mexico, Europe, East Asia, Iraq and near the Caspian Sea
Anser erythropus Lesser white-fronted goose Breeds in northern Russia, Finland, Norway and Sweden; winters in East Asia, near the Caspian Sea, and in southeastern and northwestern Europe

The following white geese were separated as the genus Chen. Most ornithological works now include Chen within Anser,[11][12][13][14]

Some authorities also treat some subspecies as distinct species (notably the tundra bean goose[15][16]) or as likely future species splits (notably the Greenland white-fronted goose).[17]

Fossil record

Numerous fossil species have been allocated to this genus. As the true geese are near-impossible to assign osteologically to genus, this must be viewed with caution. It can be assumed with limited certainty that European fossils from known inland sites belong into Anser. As species related to the Canada goose have been described from the Late Miocene onwards in North America too, sometimes from the same localities as the presumed grey geese, it casts serious doubt on the correct generic assignment of the supposed North American fossil geese.[18][19][20] Heterochen = Anser pratensis seems to differ profoundly from other species of Anser and might be placed into a different genus; alternatively, it might have been a unique example of a grey goose adapted for perching in trees.[a][b]

  • Anser atavus (Middle/Late Miocene of Bavaria, Germany) – sometimes in Cygnus
  • Anser arenosus Bickart 1990 (Big Sandy Late Miocene of Wickieup, USA)
  • Anser arizonae Bickart 1990 (Big Sandy Late Miocene of Wickieup, USA)
  • Anser cygniformis (Late Miocene of Steinheim, Germany)
  • Anser oeningensis (Meyer 1865) Milne-Edwards 1867b [Anas oeningensis Meyer 1865] (Late Miocene of Oehningen, Switzerland)
  • Anser thraceiensis Burchak-Abramovich & Nikolov 1984 (Late Miocene/Early Pliocene of Trojanovo, Bulgaria)
  • Anser pratensis (Short 1970) [Heterochen pratensis Short 1970] (Valentine Early Pliocene of Brown County, USA)
  • Anser pressus (Brodkorb 1964) [Chen pressa Brodkorb 1964] (Dwarf Snow goose) (Glenns Ferry Late Pliocene of Hagerman, USA)
  • Anser thompsoni Martin & Mengel 1980 (Pliocene of Nebraska)
  • Anser azerbaidzhanicus (Early? Pleistocene of Binagady, Azerbaijan)
  • Anser devjatkini Kuročkin 1971
  • Anser eldaricus Burchak-Abramovich & Gadzyev 1978
  • Anser tchikoicus Kuročkin 1985
  • Anser djuktaiensis Zelenkov & Kurochkin 2014 (Late Pleistocene of Yakutia, Russia)

The Maltese swan Cygnus equitum was occasionally placed into Anser, and Anser condoni is a synonym of Cygnus paloregonus.[18] A goose fossil from the Early-Middle Pleistocene of El Salvador is highly similar to Anser.[21] Given its age it is likely to belong to an extant genus, and biogeography indicates Branta as other likely candidate.

?Anser scaldii Beneden 1872 nomen nudum (Late Miocene of Antwerp, Belgium) may be a shelduck.

Relationship with humans and conservation status

Two species in the genus are of major commercial importance, having been domesticated as poultry: European domesticated geese are derived from the greylag goose, and Chinese and some African domesticated geese are derived from the swan goose.

Most species are hunted to a greater or lesser extent; in some areas, some populations are threatened by over-hunting and habitat loss. Although most species are not considered threatened by the IUCN, the lesser white-fronted goose and swan goose are listed as Vulnerable and the emperor goose is near-threatened.[22][23][24]

Other species have benefited from reductions in hunting since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with most species in western Europe and North America showing marked increases in response to protection[citation needed]. In some cases, this has led to conflicts with farming, when large flocks of geese graze crops in the winter.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Short (1970) considers this bird to be somewhat reminiscent of geese and swans, shelducks, and the Cairinini or "perching ducks".
  2. ^ The Cairinini or "perching ducks" are now known to be a paraphyletic assemblage of miscellaneous waterfowl whose morphological similarities are the product of convergent evolution towards being able to perch in trees (Livezey 1986).


  1. ^ "Anatidae". The Trust for Avian Systematics. Retrieved 2023-08-05.
  2. ^ a b c Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (2019). "Screamers, ducks, geese, swans". World Bird List Version 9.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  3. ^ a b Carboneras, A. (1992). "Family Anatidae (Ducks, Geese and Swans)". In del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions. pp. 536–628. ISBN 84-87334-10-5.
  4. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode Contenant la Division des Oiseaux en Ordres, Sections, Genres, Especes & leurs Variétés (in French and Latin). Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. Vol. 1, p. 58, Vol. 6, p. 261.
  5. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  6. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Cottrell, G. William, eds. (1979). Check-list of Birds of the World. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 424.
  7. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturæ per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis, Volume 1 (in Latin). Vol. 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae:Laurentii Salvii. p. 123.
  8. ^ Ottenburghs, Jente; van Hooft, Pim; van Wieren, Sipke E.; Ydenberg, Ronald C.; Prins, Herbert H. T. (2016). "Hybridization in geese: a review". Frontiers in Zoology. 13 (1): 20. doi:10.1186/s12983-016-0153-1. PMC 4866292. PMID 27182276.
  9. ^ Ottenburghs, Jente; Megens, Hendrik-Jan; Kraus, Robert H. S.; van Hooft, Pim; van Wieren, Sipke E.; Crooijmans, Richard P. M. A.; Ydenberg, Ronald C.; Groenen, Martien A. M.; Prins, Herbert H. T. (2017). "A history of hybrids? Genomic patterns of introgression in the True Geese". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 17 (201): 1–14. Bibcode:2017BMCEE..17..201O. doi:10.1186/s12862-017-1048-2. PMC 5568201. PMID 28830337.
  10. ^ Ottenburghs, J.; Megens, H.-J.; Kraus, R.H.S.; Madsen, O.; van Hooft, P.; van Wieren, S.E.; Crooijmans, R.P.M.A.; Ydenberg, R.C.; Groenen, M.A.M.; Prins, H.H.T. (2016). "A tree of geese: A phylogenomic perspective on the evolutionary history of True Geese". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 101: 303–313. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2016.05.021. PMID 27233434.
  11. ^ Cramp, S. (1977): The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Oxford. ISBN 0-19-857358-8
  12. ^ Madge, Steve & Burn, Hilary (1987): Wildfowl : an identification guide to the ducks, geese and swans of the world. Christopher Helm, London. ISBN 0-7470-2201-1
  13. ^ Dudley, Steve P.; Gee, Mike; Kehoe, Chris; Melling, Tim M.; The British Ornithologists' Union Records Committee (2006). "The British List: A Checklist of Birds of Britain (7th edition)" (PDF). Ibis. 148 (3): 526–563. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.2006.00603.x.
  14. ^ American Ornithologists' Union (1998): Check-list of North American Birds: the species of birds of North America from the Arctic through Panama, including the West Indies and Hawaiian Islands Archived 2007-12-11 at the Wayback Machine (7th ed., 41st supplement). American Ornithologists' Union and Allen Press, Washington, D.C. and Lawrence, Kansas, USA. ISBN 1-891276-00-X
  15. ^ Banks, Richard C.; Chesser, R. Terry; Cicero, Carla; Dunn, Jon L.; Kratter, Andrew W.; Lovette, Irby J.; Rasmussen, Pamela C.; Remsen, J.V. Jr; Rising, James D.; Stotz, Douglas F. (2007). "Forty-eighth Supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Check-List of North American Birds" (PDF). Auk. 124 (3): 1109–1115. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2007)124[1109:FSTTAO]2.0.CO;2.
  16. ^ van den Berg, Arnoud B. (2007): Lijst van Nederlandse vogelsoorten ["List of Dutch bird taxa]. [Dutch and English] PDF fulltext Archived September 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Fox, A.D.; Stroud, D.A. (2002). "Greenland White-fronted Goose". Birds of the Western Palearctic Update. 4 (2): 65–88.
  18. ^ a b Brodkorb, Pierce (1964). "Catalogue of Fossil Birds: Part 2 (Anseriformes through Galliformes)". Bulletin of the Florida State Museum. 8 (3): 195–335.
  19. ^ Short, Lester L. (1970). "A new anseriform genus and species from the Nebraska Pliocene" (PDF). Auk. 87 (3): 537–543. doi:10.2307/4083796. JSTOR 4083796.
  20. ^ Livezey, Bradley C. (1986). "A phylogenetic analysis of recent anseriform genera using morphological characters" (PDF). Auk. 103 (4): 737–754. doi:10.1093/auk/103.4.737.
  21. ^ A left humerus (specimen MUHNES 2SSAP30-853) and a left clavicle (specimen MUHNES 2SSAP30-545), apparently of a single bird: Cisneros, Juan Carlos (2005). "New Pleistocene vertebrate fauna from El Salvador". Revista Brasileira de Paleontologia. 8 (3): 239–255. doi:10.4072/rbp.2005.3.09.
  22. ^ BirdLife International (2016). "Anser cygnoid". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22679869A92832782. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22679869A92832782.en.
  23. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Anser erythropus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22679886A132300164. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22679886A132300164.en.
  24. ^ BirdLife International (2016). "Anser canagicus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22679919A92834737. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22679919A92834737.en.
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Anser (bird)
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