At AllThingsNature, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is a Goose?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A goose is a bird in the family Anatidae, which also includes ducks and swans. Many people classify geese within the genera Anser and Branta as “true geese,” to distinguish them from other birds in the same family, some of whom confusingly have common names which include the term “goose” although they are not, in fact, geese. Geese are abundant throughout the world, with a wide range of very diverse species.

When distinguishing geese from other members of the same family, it helps to note that geese are generally larger than ducks, but smaller than swans. The birds also have more pointed bills, rather than the blunt bills of ducks, with short necks and muscular bodies. Some goose species can get quite large, making them very popular as a food source in some regions of the world, and geese are also known for being extremely territorial, leading some people to use geese as guarding and herd animals.

Roasted goose legs.
Roasted goose legs.

Most goose species are migratory, seeking out favorable climates with the change of the seasons, and they mate for life, although some geese have been known to divorce their partners. A clutch of goose eggs is typically small, motivating the parents to guard the nest and the resulting goslings ferociously to ensure that they get a chance to live to adulthood. Like other birds in the Anatidae family, geese are very good swimmers and divers, and they feed on an assortment of plants, small insects, and other small creatures.

Geese commonly migrate in flocks.
Geese commonly migrate in flocks.

As a general rule, geese are associated with water, with some species hanging out around freshwater, while others prefer a saltwater environment. The notable exception to this rule is the rare Nēnē or Hawaiian goose, which lives primarily on land. Nēnē geese are considered vulnerable, and the Hawaiian government has taken a number of steps to keep the goose population on the islands healthy.

Terrine is made of goose or duck liver.
Terrine is made of goose or duck liver.

Some common geese include Cackling, Canada, Grey, Emperor, Snow, and Greylag geese. Geese are also among the oldest of domesticated farm animals, and they have been raised for generations in both Europe and Asia. Many domesticated geese are bred to be especially heavy, making them a better source of food, and as a result, they are also quite strong. A full-grown goose is actually capable of breaking bones with its powerful wings, and geese can take a nasty chunk out of bite victims, despite the fact that they have no teeth.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a goose?

A goose is a large waterfowl belonging to the family Anatidae, which also includes ducks and swans. Geese are known for their long necks, webbed feet, and honking call. They are migratory birds, often flying in a distinctive "V" formation. Geese are also social creatures, living in flocks and demonstrating strong loyalty to their mates and offspring.

How can you distinguish a goose from other waterfowl?

Geese can be distinguished from ducks by their larger size, longer necks, and more honking vocalizations. Unlike swans, which are larger with longer necks and more muted calls, geese have a variety of vocalizations and are generally more vocal. Additionally, geese have a characteristic migration behavior, flying in a "V" formation, which is less common in other waterfowl.

What do geese typically eat?

Geese are omnivores with a diet that includes grasses, grains, berries, and aquatic plants. They graze on land or dabble in the water to find food. In urban areas, they may also feed on food provided by humans or waste. Their feeding habits can impact agricultural areas, as they can consume crops and compete with farm animals for food.

Are geese monogamous?

Yes, geese are typically monogamous and often mate for life. They form strong pair bonds and are known for their loyalty to their partners. If one goose dies, its mate may mourn or refuse to take another partner. This monogamous behavior contributes to the strong social structure observed within goose flocks.

How do geese contribute to their ecosystems?

Geese play a significant role in their ecosystems by controlling vegetation, dispersing seeds, and providing food for predators. Their grazing helps maintain wetland habitats, and their droppings can fertilize soil. However, in some areas, large populations of geese can become problematic, leading to overgrazing and conflicts with human activities.

What challenges do geese face in the wild?

Geese face several challenges, including habitat loss due to human development, climate change affecting migration patterns, and predation. Hunting and pollution also pose threats to goose populations. Conservation efforts are important to ensure the sustainability of their habitats and the overall health of goose populations in the wild.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


I had a friend in college who played golf in high school. The course where they practiced had several swan and goose decoys to distract birds from bothering players.

Well, she and her teammates often made a game out of hitting the decoys. It was sort of a rudimentary target practice, I guess, although at least no real birds were harmed!


@StarJo- Geese are not the only violent birds. Swans are even more dangerous. They will attack if they feel threatened, and if they run into you and want something you have, they can fight for their territory. We often think of geese, swans, and other birds as being sweet or peaceful, but sometimes just the opposite is true.


We have a floating nest in the middle of our farm pond that geese will usually lay eggs on every year. Most of the time after the the goslings are born, we will see them swimming around the pond with the male and female.

One year we came back from a four wheeler ride and one of our dogs had swum out to the middle of the pond and was on top of the goose nest. I was so frustrated with him and had no idea he would be able to know those eggs were there from that far away.

I really missed seeing the little ones swimming around that year. The geese did return the next year though, and we able to raise a new family.


We have a pair of Canadian geese who nest on our land every year. We live in the country and have a pond in our front yard where they come back to every year.

Canadian geese mate for life and often return to the same spot every year for nesting. My kitchen window looks out to the pond and I never get tired of watching these geese. The female rarely leaves her nest, and when she does she eats fast and furiously while the male stands guard.

One year I decided to begin feeding them corn, and if I got too close the male would really hiss at me. She will usually have anywhere between 4-6 goslings and they are so cute to watch!

Every year when I hear the geese flying over head, I know that spring is not too far away.


I love seeing a flock of Canadian geese flying in a V in the fall. I look up when I hear their distinctive honking to watch them pass in their cool formation. As common as these geese are in North America now, it’s hard to believe they were once disappearing until conservation efforts helped them.

When I had my TV on to serve as background for my chores, I heard the honking coming from the screen, and I stopped to watch a National Geographic documentary on Canadian geese. I learned that these geese can now be found in every state in the U.S. and every province in Canada at some point in the year. They adapt well and can live wherever they have access to grains, berries, and grasses.


I recall visiting a distant cousin in Alaska who trapped emperor geese to bring them to his farm. This breed is most common in Alaska, and it loves to live along shorelines and grassy areas. My cousin lives on Alaska’s west coast, and he told me that is where 90% of the entire world’s emperor geese population breeds.

These geese are very pretty. Both the males and the females have gray feathers on their body interspersed with black and white bars. They have totally white heads and hindnecks. Their bills are pink, while their feet and legs are a yellowish-orange.

My cousin said each female goose lays about 5 eggs. His farm population grew pretty rapidly, and he no longer has to go out into the wild to trap them.


My grandfather raised greylag geese for their meat for years. I remember always being afraid to go near them, because they chased me while wildly flapping their wings once, and I never forgot that. Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel guilty about eating them!

His greylag geese came in white, totally gray like the ones found in the wild, and a mixture of the two. The different breeds came in various sizes also, but their necks were always thick and their bellies pooched out when they walked. When they sat on the water, their bodies looked huge and very fluffy.


Wow, I had no idea that geese could be so violent and destructive! I used to visit a park with a large pond and feed bread to what I thought were geese, but after reading this article, I imagine that they were ducks instead.

This park was known for the friendly water fowl, and many children dropped crackers and bread for the birds. I doubt that wildlife officials and parents would have allowed for the possibility of a dangerous attack on a child by placing geese in the park. I imagine liability insurance for the park would have been tremendous!

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Roasted goose legs.
      By: Glen MacLarty
      Roasted goose legs.
    • Geese commonly migrate in flocks.
      By: Delmas Lehman
      Geese commonly migrate in flocks.
    • Terrine is made of goose or duck liver.
      By: Martin Turzak
      Terrine is made of goose or duck liver.