Bar-Headed Goose

Anser indicus

Bar-Headed Goose
Bar-Headed Goose. Charlie Wylie / Flickr / CC by 2.0

One of the highest flying birds in the world, the bar-headed goose flies above the Himalayan Mountains when it migrates, at heights that may reach 30,000 feet. While more study is needed about this bird's unique migration and the physical adaptations that make it capable of surviving such thin air and cold temperatures, there is no denying these members of the Anatidae bird family are top-notch migrants. Learn what else makes the bar-headed goose unique with this detailed fact sheet.

Fast Facts

  • Scientific Name: Anser indicus (Occasionally Eulabeia indica)
  • Common Name: Bar-Headed Goose, Indian Goose, Gray Goose
  • Lifespan: 15-20 years
  • Size: 28-30 inches
  • Weight: 4.4-6.6 pounds
  • Wingspan: 55-62 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

Bar-Headed Goose Identification

Like all waterfowl, the bar-headed goose has a triangular, spatulate-shaped bill, and the bill is bright orange with a contrasting black nail. These geese have a long neck and deep chest, and genders are similar though males are slightly larger and heavier than females.

The white head is marked with a pair of U-shaped bands crossing the nape, and the upper band that starts behind the eyes is thicker than the lower band. The neck is brownish-gray with a white vertical stripe down each side. The body is grayish above and brownish below, darkest near the legs, though some minor white barring may show both above and below. The lowest part of the abdomen and the undertail coverts are white. The primary feathers are black, and the tail is a light gray-brown. In flight, the dark primary and secondary feathers create a thick, black trailing edge to the wing. The legs and webbed feet are bright orange, and the eyes are dark.

Juveniles are similar to adults but generally duller overall, with greenish-yellow bill, legs, and feet. Young birds also lack the distinctive head bars, but instead have a black cap on the head.

These geese have a low honking call they use almost continuously in flight. On land, softer calls or small trills can occasionally be heard.

Bar-Headed Goose Profile
Bar-Headed Goose Profile. Noel Reynolds / Flickr / CC by 2.0
Swimming Bar-Headed Goose
Swimming Bar-Headed Goose. Ron Knight / Flickr / CC by 2.0
Bar-Headed Goose
Bar-Headed Goose. John the cyclist / Flickr / CC by-SA 2.0
Bar-Headed Geese in Flight
Bar-Headed Geese in Flight. Imran Shah / Flickr / CC by-SA 2.0
Bar-Headed Geese Asleep on the Water
Bar-Headed Geese Asleep on the Water. Stephen Gidley / Flickr / CC by 2.0

Bar-Headed Goose Habitat and Distribution

These geese prefer freshwater habitats such as bogs, open marshes, marshy lakes, or river wetlands, as well as wet grassy fields or flooded agricultural areas. They are found in much of Asia, and migrate seasonally.

These birds are also part of exotic waterfowl collections throughout the world, including in zoos and aviaries. Some feral populations have been established, most notably in Spain, Belgium, and Finland, but regular escapee sightings are also recorded in Canada and the United Kingdom. Rare escapees may be seen nearly anywhere.

Migration Pattern

During the breeding season, bar-headed geese can be found in appropriate habitats in Mongolia, western China, Kyrgyzstan, eastern Afghanistan, and northeastern Pakistan. In winter, bar-headed geese migrate directly across the mountains to their wintering range in central Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and southern China, generally favoring lowland areas in winter.

Behavior

These are gregarious birds that gather in large flocks and will mix with other waterfowl, particularly other types of geese. They are powerful fliers and have larger, more efficient lungs than many other bird species, adaptations that ornithologists believe are essential for their demanding, high-altitude migration. While migrating, they typically form V-shaped or J-shaped formations, with lead geese falling back when exhausted. On land, they walk well and graze continually.

Diet and Feeding

Bar-headed geese are primarily herbivorous and graze on a wide range of plant materials, including grasses, grains, roots, stems, seeds, and berries. They will also eat a limited amount of mollusks, insects, small fish, and crustaceans, which meets the protein needs of their diet. While foraging, they may graze on land or nibble at aquatic plants at the surface of the water.

Nesting

These are monogamous geese that may mate for life, though there are recorded occasions of polygamy when females significantly outnumbers males on the breeding grounds. The nest is a shallow scrape lined with down, but occasionally bar-headed geese will nest in trees.

Eggs and Young

The eggs of bar-headed geese are plain, dull white or a pale buff, and there are 3-8 eggs in a typical brood. Young females may lay their eggs in an older, more established female's nest, though such parasitic eggs rarely hatch.

The female parent incubates the eggs for 27-30 days, and the precocial goslings are ready to leave the nest within a day or two of hatching. Both parents guard and guide the chicks, which are capable of their first flights at 53-55 days old but are not fully independent until 65-80 days after hatching. Juvenile birds typically stay in a loose family group throughout the winter and only venture off on their own after returning to their breeding grounds the following spring. Bar-headed geese are not sexually mature until they are three years old.

Only one brood is raised each year.

Bar-Headed Goose Conservation

Bar-headed geese are not considered threatened or endangered, though they are susceptible to habitat loss and persecution from farmers where large flocks may be damaging grain crops. In some areas, these geese are hunted, and their eggs may be collected for food.

These geese are particularly vulnerable to avian influenza, and it is feared that they may be able to transmit the disease to humans either through direct contact or in their feces.

Tips for Backyard Birders

These geese are not typical backyard birds, but may visit yards or gardens in suitable areas where ground-feeding stations are available, particularly if grain or cracked corn is available. Backyard visitors are more likely to be feral or escapee geese rather than wild individuals.

How to Find This Bird

Bar-headed geese are relatively common in suitable habitats within their range, but because some parts of their range are more remote and isolated, it may be best to arrange guided birding tours to be sure of sightings. Where feral colonies are known to exist, birders can get great views, but feral birds may not be suitable for counting on a life list, especially for official recording purposes.

Explore More Species in This Family

The Anatidae bird family includes all species of geese, ducks, and swans. Because of this broad classification, this is one of the most diverse bird families, and there are many amazing birds to discover in the family, including:

Don't miss our other wild bird fact sheets for detailed information on all your favorite bird species!