Wild Geese – Gregarious Birds and Clever Waterfowl

Wild geese are waterfowl and belong to the anserini tribe (geese) which are widely divided into grey geese (anser), black geese (branta) and half geese. This article describes geese in the Western Palearctic and northern hemisphere.

Anyone who observes wild geese throughout the year knows about these clever waterfowl, their social and group behaviour. It is no exaggeration that geese are special. Even myths and legends have it that geese are far better guards than the best dogs money can buy.

grey geese greylag goose on lake watefowl
Pair of Greylag Geese

Grey geese do have a holarctic distribution and breed in wet habitats in subarctic and coll temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Whereas the black geese of the branta genus are bound to coastal regions of the northern hemisphere. Their breeding areas stretch from the North American continent across to Greenland, Iceland, Northern Europe and further afield to far eastern Siberia. They breed in the arctic circle as well as on the edge to the subarctic circle.

The so-called half geese belong to the tadorni tribe which covers shelducks and sheldgeese. Although they do share similarities with ducks they are much closer to geese. This is why they are called half geese.

cackling goose wild geese waterfowl
Wild Geese: Cackling Goose

Wild Geese and what they have in Common

Geese are usually large waterfowl. They have a heavy body and strong feet. Because geese are specialised on grazing the feet are centred under the body. Their gait is slow and and deliberate. The Canada Goose, which is the larges species, has a gait which resembles the walking of swans. All goose have a medium-long nock, a strong conical bill with saw-toothed edges. Their bill facilitates grazing an grassland. All geese are gregarious birds, they need the large flocks and keep together as families. Wild geese are shy and wary. However, in parks and in all areas regularly frequented by many people they can become quite confiding and even start begging for food. Most geese are migratory and leave central and western Europe after winter for their breeding grounds in Norway, Fennoscandia and northern Siberia.

Greylag Goose (Anser anser)

Goose Taxonomy

In the following taxonomy I am listing the different groups / genera and the respective species with their English, German, French and scientific name.

Genus Anser – Grey Geese

greylag goose grey geese waterfowl
Greylag Goose walking through water
  • Greylag Goose – Graugans – Oie cendrée (Anser anser)
  • Taiga Bean Goose – Saatgans – Oie de moissons (Anser fabalis)
  • Pink-footed Goose – Kurzschnabelgans – Oie à bec court (Anser brachyrhynchos)
  • (Greater) White-fronted Goose – Blässgans – Oie rieuse (Anser albifrons)
  • Lesser White-fronted Goose – Zwerggans – Oie naine (Anser erythropus)
  • Bar-headed Goose – Streifengans – Oie à tête barrée (Anser indicus)
  • Swan Goose – Schwanengans – Oie cygnoide (Anser cygnoides)
  • Snow Goose – Schneegans – Oie des neiges (Anser cerulescens)
canada goose branta canadensis black geese anserini and branta
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Genus Branta – Black Geese or Marine Geese

  • Brent Goose – Ringelgans – Bernache cravant (Branta bernicla)
  • Red-breasted Goose – Rothalsgans – Bernache à cou roux (Branta ruficollis)
  • Barnacle Goose – Weisswangengans – Bernache nonnette (Branta leucopsis)
  • Cackling Goose – Zwergkanadagans – Bernache de Hutchins (Branta hutchinsii)
  • Canada Goose – Kanadagans – Bernache du Canada (Branta canadensis)
barnacke geese
Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)
common shelduck tadorna tadorna half geese
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)

Tadorni tribe – Half Geese

  • Egyptian Goose – Nilgans – Ouette d’Egypte (Alopochen aegyptiaca)
  • Ruddy Shelduck – Rostgans – Tadorna casarca (Tadorna ferruginea)
  • Common Shelduck – Brandgans – Tadorna de Belon (Tadorna tadorna)
egyptian goose half geese
Egyptian Goose

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