December 14, 2021
The ducks, geese, and swans of the world are collectively known as waterfowl, or as they are referred to in Europe, wildfowl. Among the waterfowl of the world are 20 species of geese. They are found in a wide variety of habitats, from the Arctic to the tropics. Some, like Brant, are highly migratory, making a 3,000-mile nonstop flight every autumn, while others, like the Nënë , are sedentary and often prefer to walk rather than fly.
Unlike ducks, the plumage of both sexes is similar in geese, although males are generally larger than females. Most geese become sexually mature at two or three years of age and form long-lasting pair bonds that are often lifelong. Some species, like Ross’s Geese, nest communally, while others, like Spur-Winged Geese, nest as single pairs. Nest incubation is by the female, with the male aggressively defending the nesting territory. If the first nesting attempt fails, most temperate species will renest, while the Arctic species produce only one clutch per year. Both parents participate in brood rearing.
While many geese are highly territorial during the breeding season, they are gregarious at other times of year. Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese feed/roost in aggregations of tens of thousands during migration and on the wintering grounds, while others, such as the Nënë, seldom form large flocks.
Geese are among the most terrestrial of all waterfowl. Their legs are positioned well forward on their body, which affords them excellent balance and the ability to forage on land. The shape and size of their bill reflect varying foraging techniques and food preferences. Bill serrations allow them to efficiently sever vegetation. Greylag Geese have bill morphology that is well suited for digging up roots and tubers, while the diminutive beak of Red-breasted Geese is designed for clipping grass.
Geese were among the first wild birds to be domesticated, as long as 4,000 years ago. Greylag Geese and Swan Geese are the ancestors of all domestic geese that provide eggs, meat, and down and are used for ornamental purposes.
The populations of many species, like Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese, have increased dramatically during the past several decades. Greater White-Fronted Geese and Cackling Geese are more abundant than they were 30 years ago. Others, like Red-Breasted Geese, have declining populations. All 20 species of geese are held in avian collections, and the captive breeding of the Nënë is largely responsible for its return from the brink of extinction.
Geese of the World
Bar-Headed Geese are migratory species that breeds in China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia, and south to eastern Afghanistan. They winter in India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Nepal, and southern China. They breed on high-elevation plateaus near wetlands and frequent freshwater wetlands, lakes, and rivers near agricultural areas during the winter months. They weigh 4 to 7 pounds. There is limited hunting for Bar-Headed Geese in Mongolia.
Barnacle Geese are a small to medium size goose (2.7 to 4.9 pounds). They nest in the Artic regions of Greenland, Iceland, and the Svalbard archipelago as well as portions of Scandinavia and northwest Russia. They migrate to the United Kingdom and western Europe where they often winter in agricultural areas. There are annual hunting seasons in Iceland, the Netherlands and other locations in Europe.
Brant are a small, black-and-white Northern Hemisphere goose tied to coastal habitats. The breed in the Artic regions of North America, Greenland and Siberia. The winter on both coast of the US, the United Kingdom and western Europe as well as Japan, Korea and western China. They are hunted on the Pacific Coast of the US and Mexico and the Atlantic Seaboard of the US.
The Cackling Goose is a small, white-cheeked goose endemic to North America. Formerly considered conspecific with its larger-bodied, white-cheeked relative, the Canada Goose, they were designated as a distinct species in 2004. They breed in Arctic Canada and Alaska and winter in the mid-latitude and southern US. Bouncing back from record lows in the late 1970s of less than 100,000, today the four subspecies of Cackling Geese (cacklers) number more than 3.5 million across the four North American flyways. They can be hunted throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
The Canada Goose is a medium to large (6 to 18 pounds), white-cheeked North American goose formerly considered conspecific with its smaller-bodied, white-cheeked relative, the Cackling Goose. There are seven subspecies found throughout Canada, the US and Mexico and they have been introduced in many countries including New Zealand, the United Kingdom and western Europe. They are hunted throughout North America as well as the British Isles, Europe, and New Zealand.
Cape Barren Goose
Endemic to southern Australia and Tasmania, they are large (7.2 to 11.2 pounds) birds. They are generally nonmigratory, but post-breeding birds often disperse to larger islands or to the mainland. They frequent beaches, coastal pastures, and both brackish and freshwater lakes. There is limited hunting in Tasmania.
Emperor Geese nest in Alaska and Siberia where they use freshwater ponds, inland lakes, and coastal lagoons. They winter in intertidal areas on the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutian Islands, Kodiak Island, and in Russia. Given protection over the past 30 years, their populations have increased from a low of 42,000 birds in 1986 to nearly 100,000 geese today. As a result, some subsistence and limited (by permit) sport hunting was allowed in Alaska beginning in 2017.
Greater White-Fronted Goose
The Greater White-Fronted Goose, or simply White-fronted Goose, is a widespread circumpolar Arctic nesting goose. They are migratory, spending the winter at lower latitudes in temperate Europe, Asia, and North America, often on wetlands near agricultural areas. In North America, their colloquial name of Specklebelly or Speck, is often used. They weigh from 5 to 7.5 pounds. They are hunting throughout their range in North America and much of western and eastern Europe.
The Greylag Goose or Graylag Goose is a large, pale gray Eurasian goose that weighs from 5.4 to 10 pounds. During the breeding season, they utilize freshwater wetlands, rivers, and lakes in Iceland, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, the Baltic countries, eastern Europe, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, and Russia. In winter they migrate to western Europe, the British Isles, the Mediterranean region, North Africa, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China where they use freshwater and saltwater marshes, estuaries, pasture lands, and agricultural areas. There are hunting seasons in Iceland, the United Kingdom and Europe.
Magpie Geese average 6.5 pounds and are found in northern and eastern Australia and southern Papua New Guinea. Their preferred habitats are the floodplains of tropical rivers and swamps along with brackish and saline wetlands. They are non-migratory but wander extensively and disperse widely in the wet season but often concentrate during the dry season. They are legal quarry in some portions of Australia.
The Hawaiian Goose, or better known by its Hawaiian name, Nënë, evolved in the Hawaiian Archipelago, has the smallest range of any goose, and is among the most isolated, sedentary, and threatened of all waterfowl. Found on Maui, Hawaii, Kauai, Molokai, and Oahu, their population is estimated at about 3,250 birds. They are a “Threatened” species that cannot be hunted.
Lesser White-Fronted Goose
They are a migratory species that breeds in a relatively narrow, discontinuous band across the Arctic regions of Scandinavia and Russia to eastern Siberia. They breed in Arctic habitats, particularly scrub-covered and lightly wooded tundra near the taiga zone. They winter in eastern Europe, China, Japan, and Korea mostly on short-grass semiarid biotopes, salt steppe, salt marshes, and agricultural lands. Their populations have decreased and numbers about 30,000 birds. They are protected in most regions and are not hunted.
The Pink-Footed Goose is a medium-sized Palearctic goose that weighs 4 to 8 pounds. They are migratory, breeding in Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard where they utilize open Arctic tundra interspersed with wet sedge meadows and tundra ponds. They winter in coastal estuaries and on agricultural lands in the British Isles and western Europe. They can be hunted in Iceland, the British Isles, and western Europe.
The Red-Breasted Goose is a small, brightly colored Eurasian goose considered by many as the most striking and colorful of the goose species. They are migratory and follow narrow corridors from their Siberian tundra breeding grounds to wintering areas in southeastern Europe, mainly in Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine. They nest in dry scrub and lichen-covered tundra, interspersed with dwarf birch and willows and spend the winter in in agricultural areas near lakes and reservoirs. The estimated population is below 50,000 individuals with a declining trend. They are protected and cannot be legally hunted.
Ross’s Geese are a small (3 to 4 pounds) migratory North American species that are similar in appearance to white-phase Snow Geese but about 40 percent smaller. They breed in Arctic Canada where their breeding habitat is dominated by flat plains with rock outcrops, wet meadows, and marshy and wooded tundra. Historically, their primary wintering grounds were in California’s Central Valley. However, their wintering population has expanded eastward into the Central and Mississippi Flyways where the winter on wetlands and agricultural lands. They are hunted throughout Canada, the US, and Mexico.
The Snow Goose is a medium-sized goose that has two subspecies: the more common Lesser caerulescens (4.5 to 6 pounds) and the larger (5.5 to 9 pounds) Greater atlanticus. There are two color phases, a white morph and a dark morph known as a Blue Goose. They breed in the subarctic and Arctic tundra of Canada and Alaska and on Wrangell Island in Russia. During the winter they utilize wet grasslands, freshwater marshes, coastal prairies, brackish marshes, and cultivated fields in the US and Mexico. There are liberal hunting seasons/limits in Canada, the US, and Mexico.
Named for the odd spur at the bend of their wings, Spur-Winged Geese are more closely related to shelducks than true geese. They are the largest of Africa’s waterfowl and, on average, among the largest geese in the world weighing 7.3 to 15 pounds (rarely up to 22 pounds). They are mostly sedentary and are found throughout the vast area of sub-Sahara Africa. They can be hunted in South Africa.
The Swan Goose is a large (6.2 to 7.7 pounds) long-necked Asian goose. Their breeding grounds extend from Mongolia and northernmost China to southeastern Russia while their main wintering grounds are in central and eastern China, especially Dongting and Poyang Lakes, and the Yancheng coastal wetlands. They can be hunted in Mongolia.
Taiga Bean Goose
The Taiga Bean Goose and Tundra Bean Goose were formerly considered a single species—the Bean Goose—until 2007, when they were designated two separate species. They are a medium to large (5 to 8.9 pounds), gray Eurasian goose. Taiga Bean Geese are migratory, breeding across the taiga and wooded tundra zone (farther south than Tundra Bean Geese) from eastern Scandinavia east to Lake Baikal and eastern Siberia. They winter in open country and on marshes and agricultural lands in central and southern Europe and southern and eastern Asia. They can be hunted in Europe.
Tundra Bean Goose
The Taiga Bean Goose and Tundra Bean Goose were formerly considered a single species—the Bean Goose—until 2007, when they were designated two separate species. They are a medium to large (4.4 to 8.9 pounds), gray Eurasian goose. The breed in Siberia and on lakes, wetlands, and rivers in the Arctic zone and winter in open country, on marshes in coastal plains, and on agricultural lands in the United Kingdom, Europe and eastern Asia. They can be hunted in Europe.
Where to Purchase Waterfowl of the World
Through the images of award-winning photographer Gary Kramer, and the words of Kramer and Greg Mensik, Waterfowl of the World takes readers on a visual and literary journey in search of all 167 species of ducks, geese, and swans on Earth. Waterfowl of the World is a testament to Kramer’s and Mensik’s long professional history and expertise in waterfowl ecology and management, and even more important, Gary’s superb photography. The effort required to produce this book is almost unimaginable. Simply seeing these species would be an accomplishment of a lifetime for many, but photographing them in their natural habitats is something well beyond the grasp of even the most accomplished wildlife photographer. The hard cover 11 3/4 x 10-inch Waterfowl of the World book contains 540 pages and 1,299 color photos with range maps, natural history, and conservation/status information and a photographic insight seldom seen. It will be an outstanding resource for a broad constituency of readers, including waterfowl hunters, nature photographers, birders, wetland managers and academics. Author signed books can be purchased for $99 postpaid in the US at GaryKramer.net