Birds by Name – G
The Gannet, Morus bassanus, is large seabirds in the family Sulidae. Adults are white with black wingtips. They have a long neck, long pointed beak, long pointed tail, long pointed wings and an orange head.
Gannets hunt fish by diving from a height of up to thirty metres into the sea and pursuing their prey underwater. They can reach speed of up to 100 kph when they strike the water and they have air sacs in their face and chest under their skin to cushion the impact.
Gannets also have no external nostrils, which also helps them hunt underwater.
They eat fish, fish and more fish. Their appetite led to the use of the word ‘Gannet’ being used as a derogatory term to describe humans who eat rather a lot or to excess.
Species: Morus bassanus (Northern Gannet), Morus capensis (Cape Gannet), Morus serrator (Australasian Gannet)
The Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa, is a large, long-legged, long-billed (about 12cm) wading shorebird.
In summer they have a bright orangey chest, belly, neck and head, in winter they’re more greyish-brown. Female black-tailed godwits are bigger and heavier than the males and have a longer beak.
They measures around 42 centimetres from bill to tail with a wingspan of 70–82 centimetres. Males weigh around 280 grams and females around 340 grams.
Godwits dine mainly on invertebrates and the odd aquatic plant, although in the breeding season their diet may also include beetles, flies, grasshoppers, dragonflies, mayflies, caterpillars and molluscs with the occasional meal of fish eggs, frogspawn and tadpoles.
Species: L. limosa
The Goldcrest, Regulus regulus, is a very small member of the kinglet family. It has greenish upper parts, whitish underside and has two white wingbars. It has a bright head crest, orange and yellow in the male and yellow in the female.
The Goldcrest breeds in coniferous woodland and gardens, building its compact nest on a tree branch. Ten to twelve eggs are incubated by the female alone but the chicks are fed by both parents. The Goldcrest eats small spiders and other insects.
Species: R. regulus
The Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis, is a colourful member of the Finch family, Fringillidae, 12–13 cm long with a wingspan of 21–25 cm and weighing in at between 14 and 19 grams.
The sexes are fairly similar, with a red face, black and white head, brown upperparts, white underparts with buff flanks and breast patches, and black and yellow wings. Male Goldfinches can often be distinguished by a larger, darker red mask that extends just behind the eye. In females, the red does not reach the eye. The bill is long and pointed, and the tail is forked.
They are usually to be found where there are scattered bushes and trees, rough ground with thistles and other seeding plants.
Species: C. carduelis
The Brant or Brent Goose, Branta bernicla, is a species of goose of the genus Branta and is about the same size as a (normal) Mallard.
It has a black head and neck and grey-brown back, and either a pale or dark belly depending on the race. Adults have a small white neck patch. The rump is and the tail is black and very short.
Brent Geese eat vegetation, particularly grasses.
Species: B. bernicla
The Canada Goose, Branta canadensis, is a wild goose belonging to the genus Branta, which is native to arctic and temperate regions of North America. It was introduced into Europe and is now considered a pest in many areas.
It has a black head and neck, white patches on the face and a brownish-grey body.
The Canada Goose ranges from 75 to 110 cm in length, has a wingspan of 127–185 cm and males usually weigh between 3.2 and 6.5 kilos. The sexes are almost identical except the female is slightly lighter in weight. Good luck weighing one!
The Canada Goose eats mainly vegetation, such as roots, grass, leaves and seeds.
Species: B. canadensis
The Egyptian Goose, Alopochen aegyptiacus, is a member of the family Anatidae and is in the shelduck subfamily Tadorninae. It is pale brown and grey with very distinctive dark brown eye-patches and has white wing patches in flight.
It was originally introduced from the Nile valley into many areas as an ornamental wildfowl species. Naturally, many escaped into the wild and subsequently bred in large numbers. These large feral populations are considered a pest in many countries.
The Egyptian Goose mainly eats seeds, leaves, grasses, and plant stems but will also occasionally feast on locusts, worms or other small animals.
Species: A. aegyptiacus
Greater Magellan Goose
The Greylag Goose, Anser anser, is a large bird and the ancestor of most domesticated geese in Europe and North America.
It has quite bulky body, a thick and long neck, and a large head and bill. It has pink legs and feet and an orange or pink bill.
The Greylag Goose grows up to to 91 centimetres in length with a wingspan of up to 48 centimetres. It is basically a greyish-brown with a darker head and palish belly with black spots. Its patterned appearance is due to the pale fringes of its feathers.
It eats grass, roots, cereal leaves and, if it can get it, grain.
Species: A. anser
Lesser Snow Goose
Lesser White-fronted Goose
The Nene, also known as the Nēnē and Hawaiian Goose, Branta sandvicensis, is a species of goose endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. It evolved from the Canada Goose, Branta canadensis, which is thought to have migrated to the Hawaiian islands around half a million years ago.
The Nene is a threatened species, numbers dropping from an estimated 25,000 in 1778 to around 30 specimens in 1952. Fortunately, it breeds well in captivity and was reintroduced in 2004. There are now thought to be around 800 birds in the wild and about 1,000 in zoos, wildfowl collections and reserves.
Adult males, which grow to a height of around 41 centimetres, have a black head and hindneck, buff cheeks and heavily furrowed neck. The neck has black and white diagonal stripes. Apart from being smaller, the female Nene is similar to the male in colour. The adult’s bill, legs and feet are black.
The Nene eats leaves, seeds, fruit, and flowers of grasses and shrubs.
Species: B. sandvicensis
Richardson’s Canada Goose
Dark Chanting Goshawk
The Dark Chanting Goshawk, Melierax metabates, is a bird of prey in the family Accipitridae, which also includes a number of other raptors such as kites, eagles and harriers. It is a large, long-tailed, broad-winged hawk, with a wingspan of around 105 centimetres. It is slate-grey above and white with fine barring below and the tail is black and white.
It is a resident species of tropical and subtropical savannah and builds a stick nest in a tree and lays one or two eggs.
It eats a variety of vertebrate prey and large insects, often sitting on power lines to survey the scene.
Species: M. metabates
The extremely colourful Gouldian Finch, Erythrura gouldiae, looks like it was fashioned out of patchwork. There are breeding populations all over the world but this finch is endemic to a fairly small area in Australia.
The Gouldian Finch – also known as Lady Gouldian Finch, Gould’s Finch or, in America, the Rainbow Finch – is named after the wife of ornithological artist John Gould.
Gouldian Finches are between 13 and 14 centimetres long and the heads can be red, black or yellow. Young birds have grey heads, sides and neck, and olive green backs, wings and tail feathers. Their beaks are blackish with a reddish tip.
Newly-hatched, Gouldian Finches are pink and featherless until about 12 days old when the beginnings of feathers start to appear and very young birds have blue, phosphorescent beads on the sides of their beaks to help their parents see them in the dark.
The Gouldian Finch is a threatened species in the wild.
These particular finches have the run of a large, tropical butterfly park in Benalmádena, Spain.
Species: E. gouldiae
The Greenfinch or European Greenfinch, Carduelis chloris, is a small passerine bird in the finch family Fringillidae and resident populations are found throughout Europe, north Africa and south west Asia.
You will find Greenfiches on the edge of woodland areas, in farmland hedges and in gardens.
The Greenfinch is about 15 centimetres in length, has a wingspan of between 24.5 and 27.5 centimetres, similar in size and shape to a House Sparrow. As the name implies, the Greenfinch is mainly green, with yellow in the wings and tail. The female and juveniles are a bit duller and have brown bits on the back. The bill is thick and conical.
Greenfinches mainly eat seeds but will also dine on berries.
Species: C. chloris
The Guillemot, Uria aalge, also known as the Common Murre or Common Guillemot, is a seabird in the Auk family. It is dark brown and white with a white ring round the eye and a stripe behind it.
It is a diving bird, generally diving to depths of between 30 and 60 metres, although depths of up to 180 metres have apparently been recorded.
The Guillemot spends most of its life at sea, only coming to shore to nest and breed, and huge colonies can gather on cliffs.
The Guillemot eats fish and crustaceans.
Species: U. aalge
The Glaucous Gull, Larus hyperboreus, is a large gull which breeds in the Arctic regions of the northern hemisphere and the Atlantic coasts of Europe. It is migratory, wintering in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans and as far south as the British Isles and northernmost states of the USA.
This is a large and powerful gull, pale and with white wing tips and tail. Adults are pale grey with a thick yellow bill. Juveniles are very pale grey with a pink and black bill.
Glaucous gulls average 68 centimetres in length, have a wingspan of around 155 and can weigh up to 1.55 kilos.
These gulls are omnivores and will eat fish, insects, molluscs, offal, eggs, small birds, small mammals and carrion as well as seeds, berries and grain – basically anything and everything, they don’t seem to be too fussy about what they eat.
Species: L. hyperboreus
The Grey-headed Gull, Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus, is a smallish gull, slightly larger than the Black-headed Gull at around 42 centimetres in length, with a pale grey head, grey body and red bill and legs.
The black tips to the primary wing feathers have white mirrors. The underwing is dark grey with black wingtips. The grey hood disappears in winter, leaving just dark streaks.
The Grey-headed Gull takes two years to reach maturity, with first year birds having a black terminal tail band and more dark areas in the wings.
Species: C. cirrocephalus
The Herring Gull, Larus argentatus, is a large, squawking gull found on coasts and inland around rubbish tips, fields, large reservoirs and lakes. It grows up to a length of around 66 cm.
Adults have light grey backs, white under parts, and black wing tips with distinctive white ‘mirrors’. Their legs are pink, with webbed feet and they have slightly hooked bills marked with a red spot.
Juveniles are a mottled brown. Herring Gulls are scavengers and will eat almost anything and everything.
Species: L. argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull
The Yellow-legged Gull, Larus michahellis, was, until fairly recently, considered to be a subspecies of the Herring Gull, Larus argentatus, but has now been granted ‘full species’ status. They breed all along the Mediterranean area.
The adults are very similar to, and easily confused with Herring Gulls. They have a grey back, a bit darker than Herring Gulls but lighter than Lesser Black-backed Gulls and they have yellow legs. Like Herring Gulls, they have a red spot on the bill as adults.
First-year Yellow-legged Gulls have a paler head, rump and underparts compared to Herring Gulls, and are more like first-year Great Black-backed Gulls, only adding to the possible confusion (and it doesn’t take much when I’m involved).
They have a dark bill and eyes, pinkish grey legs, dark flight feathers and a black band on the tail. By their second winter, they are essentially feathered like adults.
Species: L. michahellis