Goose, a waterfowl belonging to the same family as ducks and swans. Geese are larger and heavier than ducks, and have longer necks, but are smaller and have shorter necks than swans. They vary widely in size according to the species, ranging in length from 22 to 45 inches (56–114 cm). They also vary in color and markings. Geese have a worldwide range, and were perhaps the first poultry to be domesticated. They are bred for their meat and eggs, and as pets and for ornamental purposes. Until steel nibs were invented, goose quills were used for writing pens. Goose feathers have long been used as stuffing for mattresses and pillows.
Geese breed near water but feed mostly on land, often going far inland to eat grasses and crops. The male (gander) often assists the female (goose) in rearing the young (goslings), and in some species the pair mates for life. The number of eggs in a clutch varies with the species from about 4 to as many as 16. Some kinds of geese migrate long distances from breeding to feeding grounds. Most North American geese breed from the Arctic as far south as southern Illinois, and migrate in winter as far south as the Gulf states.Domestic geese are an important food source, especially in Europe.
Swans trumpet, whistle, and whoop. But geese honk to say “hello.” Like swans, geese are very vocal. They, too, have long necks, webbed feet, and waterproof feathers. But geese are much smaller than most swans. Large geese weigh only around 9 pounds (4 kilograms).
When a white-fronted goose flies, it has a high, musical call that sounds a bit like laughter—lyo-lyok, lyo-lyok. This call is so special that the goose can be identified by it. Some people even call white-fronted geese “laughing geese.”
Like swans, geese use different calls for different reasons. One honk is a greeting. Another is a warning. Another signals that it is time for the flock to move on. Some geese have at least 10 different calls, each 1 for a different reason.
Geese feed on land much more than swans do. But barnacle geese don’t just eat grass—they seem to mow right through it. They can clip grass at hundreds of snips a minute!
Two things help geese forage, or feed, on land. First, a goose’s legs are close to the front of its body. This helps the goose walk comfortably on land. Second, a goose’s bill is shaped like a triangle, with sharp notches along the edges. The notches help a goose cut through dry grass and other land plants.
Geese gather in family groups and large flocks to forage. Barnacle geese chatter when they forage. They give off sharp barks and yelps. And they compete for food. Geese in the middle of the flock often move to the edge to reach grassier spots.