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Ecology and ethology of the bean geese anser fabalis fabalis and anser fabalis rossicus

Ecology and ethology of the bean geese anser fabalis fabalis and anser fabalis rossicus

Gerfaut 70(4): 499-558

For several consecutive winters a study of the comparative ecology and ethology of A. f. fabalis and A. f. rossicus was made on their wintering grounds in the southern Netherlands. Observations were made from sunrise to sunset on large wintering flocks of each of the populations for about 60 days; the behavior of many individuals was recorded with a tape recorder. A. f. fabalis grazes on meadows throughout the winter. A. f. rossicus feeds on the harvest waste of sugar beets and potatoes during early winter; later its preferences change and it visits newly sown wheat fields and stubble fields sown with grasses. The reasons for this important change are discussed. Differences in photosensitivity between the two populations have been noted: unlike A. f. rossicus, A. f. fabalis sometimes visits the feeding grounds at night; it returns to them earlier in the morning and leaves them later in the evening; A. f. fabalis never demonstrates signs of great nervousness before sunset as is the case with A. f. rossicus. A study of diurnal activity indicated more accelerated rhythms of activity in A. f. fabalis. The results of all the studies made during the course of several winters were consistent and confirm the existence of an endogenous periodicity proper to each of the populations. A study of activities and behavioral sequences revealed a great number of differences between the 2 populations, several of which are genetically controlled. A. f. fabalis always drinks fresh water while A. f. rossicus largely depends upon brackish water. Because the former visits meadows it is mainly a grazer and occasionally a digger. A. f. rossicus is predominantly a digger and during this activity it uses more energy. Throughout the winter, A. f. fabalis divides the time into rather balanced parts for feeding and for other activities. The same distribution pattern is also found for A. f. rossicus as long as it visits sugar beet and potato fields during the 1st part of winter, but once it moves to wheat fields and grassy stubble fields during the 2nd part of winter, the more or less balanced time schedule is no longer respected. Probably in relation with its feeding on roots and tuberous plants, which are more nutritious than the gramineous diet of A. f. fabalis, A. f. rossicus is a more nervous bird, reacting more strongly to disturbances and more often flying than A. f. fabalis; during the 1st part of winter, A. f. rossicus rests more frequently. By the morphology of the neck, bill and legs, each population is distinctly adapted to its respective ecological niche. A. f. fabalis spends more time preening than A. f. rossicus. The neck swinging movement of A. f. fabalis was never seen in A. f. rossicus, while the head shaking, leg stretching and trampling of A. f. rossicus were never noted in A. f. fabalis. Among the various activities and postures several differences that most probably correspond to physiological and biochemical differences between the 2 populations were found. A. f. fabalis drinks throughout the day but, even when water is available, A. f. rossicus does not regularly drink. While searching for food and feeding, A. f. rossicus walks as a rule more quickly than A. f. fabalis, although the feeding grounds of the former are more uneven and broken than those of the latter. During vigilance and rest, A. f. fabalis is often sitting, whereas A. f. rossicus is more frequently standing; the posture of the head during rest is different in the 2 populations. The possible consequences of these differences on the metabolism are further discussed. A. f. fabalis and A. f. rossicus constitute, on their wintering grounds, 2 well defined biological entities.

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