While talking about waterfowls, most people generally refer to all species as “ducks,” overlooking whether they’re actually ducks, geese, or swans.
But are these birds really that similar to each other? That’s what we are going to talk about today.
Ducks and geese belong to the same family (Anatidae) and might appear similar from a fair distance. However, a closer examination will tell you that ducks are smaller and stouter than the geese and also have a flatter and lower-placed bill. They’re incapable of flight, except for the Mallards, while geese can fly with ease, only closer to the ground.
In this article, we will talk about ducks and geese and the features that help us distinguish between them.
What are Waterfowls?
Waterfowls are birds that possess waterproof feathers and webbed feet. They require an aquatic habitat such as rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands, or the ocean to survive.
Waterbirds inhabit a variety of diverse habitats and are found on every continent except Antarctica.
Although the term “waterfowl” is generally used to refer to ducks, geese, and swans, some people also refer to the unrelated loons, grebes, and coots, as waterfowls.
These birds are also possibly some of the most recognizable birds globally since many of their species commonly frequent freshwater beaches and city parks.
The two waterfowl species that we will talk about in this article are ducks and geese. While both of these birds might appear the same from afar, upon closer inspection, you will find that they have more differences between them than similarities.
Both ducks and geese belong to the Anatidae and have webbed feet suitable for swimming. The extra skin between the toes makes it easier to push through the water and swim.
Ducks vs. Geese: At a glance
As we’ve discussed above, both ducks and geese are closely related waterfowls and can be distinguished on multiple grounds, such as appearance, diet, breeding habits, and more.
Before we explore the table containing quick differentiation pointers between the two given below, let’s take a look at the lists of ducks and geese commonly found in the United States.
Ducks of the United States
1. Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)
2. White-faced Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna viduata)
3. Mottled Duck (Anas fulvigula)
4. Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
5. Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)
6. Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)
7. Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
8. Canvasback (Aythya ferina)
Geese of the United States
1. Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens)
2. Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)
3. Canada Goose (Brant Canadensis)
4. Emperor Goose (Anser canagica)
5. Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus)
6. Brant (Branta bernicla)
7. Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii)
Now take a look at the table:
|Family||Both ducks and geese belong to the same family: Anatidae.|
|Number of species||Over 90 species.||Roughly 29 species.|
|Weight||450 grams-1.5 kilograms||2-3 kilograms|
|Lifespan||7-10 years in the wild; can extend up to 15 years in captivity.||10-15 years in the wild; can extend up to 30 years in captivity.|
|Diet||Ducks are omnivores.||Geese are herbivores.|
|Vocalization||Produce “quacking” sounds.||Produce “honking” sounds.|
|Migration status||Ducks are generally non-migratory birds, with some exceptions.||Geese are migratory birds.|
Now that we’ve touched these basic pointers, we are ready to dive into the detailed differences between ducks and geese.
Differences in appearance
While ducks and geese are close relatives and have some similarities in their appearance, you’ll find numerous pointers of distinguishing between them if you look at their respective anatomies closely.
Body shape and size
The first and most remarkably visible difference between ducks and geese is the shape of their body.
Ducks have a stout, medium-sized body coupled with short legs. On the other hand, the geese have long bodies and legs and will appear taller and, at times, larger when standing next to a duck.
Additionally, the necks of geese also stretch longer than the ducks. Ducks have less than 16 vertebrae in their necks, while geese have over 23.
As many of you might already know, sexual dimorphism is used to distinguish the adult sexes of any species.
When you look at ducks, you will find that it’s incredibly easy to tell the sexes apart by their plumage. The adult male ducks usually have bright and colorful plumage, unlike the dull plumage of their female counterparts.
Additionally, the male ducks or drakes are also much heavier than the females.
However, when it comes to the adult geese, the sexual dimorphism is negligible to none. Both sexes of the adults appear almost identical and are impossible to tell apart by their appearance.
As a general rule, the ducks are always more colorful than the geese. These birds display various colors on their plumage, such as green, brown, blue, black, and so on, with the males being more brightly colored.
On the other hand, the only colors that you can find on a geese’s plumage range in shades of white and grey.
Bill: shape, size, and placement
The bills of ducks and geese are remarkably different from one another. If you ever examine a goose closely, you will notice how their bills are placed slightly higher than their eye level, beginning right from their heads.
On the other hand, the duck’s bills are placed significantly lower than that, right below their eye level.
Also, the ducks have their nostrils placed a little lower on their bill than the geese.
Furthermore, the shape and size of their bills are different as well. Ducks have a longer and flatter bill, while geese possess a shorter one that narrows toward the edge.
As you might already know, the waterfowls are not known for their flight skills. However, when comparing ducks and geese, the latter are significantly better fliers.
Most duck species do not fly, except for some species, like the Mallards. This could also be a possible reason why these birds are non-migratory.
On the other hand, all geese species are capable of long-distance flight. However, they do fly closer to the ground.
Do ducks and geese have anything similar?
Yes, they do. Both of these waterfowls have similar, waterproof feathers (consisting of oils that resist water absorbency) and webbed feet.
However, the feet of geese are slightly longer to match the proportion of the rest of their body.
Differences in diet
Apart from the appearance of the ducks and geese, there are other noteworthy differences between the two and diet is a major one of them.
We agree that there are some similarities between their diet due to the fact that they’re both waterfowls and have the same food sources available in their surroundings.
However, it is also important to note that while ducks are omnivores, geese are strictly herbivores.
Let’s take a closer look at their diet.
What do ducks eat?
Being omnivores, ducks are known to eat both aquatic plants and grasses and aquatic insects, worms, mollusks, small fish, and amphibians.
The family of ducks is diverse, with different groups having different food preferences.
What do the Diving Ducks eat?
Just as their name suggests, the diving ducks go deep underwater in search of food and are often found feeding on small fish, crustaceans, and mollusks.
Aquatic plants are also consumed by them occasionally.
What do the Dabbling Ducks eat?
Dabbling ducks forage on land or the surface of the water, so their diet mainly consists of aquatic plants and insects found both on land and in water.
What do the Mergansers eat?
Mergansers are quite skilled at catching and swallowing larger fish species and have a primarily animal-based diet.
What do geese eat?
As we’ve mentioned earlier, geese are herbivores. Most geese species are land-grazers and primarily feed on grass, roots, seeds, shoots, and leaves of shrubs and other lower vegetation.
You’ll also find them enjoying berries that they can reach or have fallen on the ground from time to time.
Some geese species that can submerge their heads inside the water, such as the Canada Goose, mainly eat aquatic plants and weeds.
Differences in mating and reproduction
When it comes to mating and reproduction, ducks and geese have both similarities as well as differences.
To examine these more closely, let’s explore how the mating and reproduction system of these waterfowls works:
Ducks: mating and reproduction
Ducks are usually seasonally monogamous, sticking together for a single breeding season, after which they part ways and find a different partner in the next one.
Some larger species stick with the same partner for 2-3 consecutive breeding seasons but usually separate afterward. Ducks mate once a year.
Reaching sexual maturity
Both sexes of these birds reach sexual maturity at the same time, with most species maturing at the age of 5 months, like the Pekins. However, the slower-growing species like the Muscovy maturing sexually at the age of 7 months.
The mating season of ducks
Most duck species prefer to mate either in the spring or summer months or during the monsoon.
Among the ducks, the courtship is initiated by the hens (females). When a hen is ready to mate, she will make it known by extending its neck above the water surface while swimming.
This behavior attracts the attention of the prospective male partners in the vicinity. The female then chooses one of them and quacks at them rapidly to signal their approval.
Both adults bump their heads together (rhythmic head bobbing), which signifies that they’re ready to copulate. This ritual is often repeated after mating as well.
Once a couple is done with the courting ritual, the female knows what is to come and relaxes its body completely to give the male’s penis access to the fertilization areas.
The male then mounts the hen, its penis coming out and being filled with fluids which will soon be released inside the female’s vaginal tract.
The penis stays inside the female’s tracts for several minutes after the ejaculation until all the fluids recede.
What happens next? (Nesting and egg-laying)
After the mating is over, the female ducks get to the task of making a nest for incubation. The nest is built using the grasses and leaves from the surroundings. The mother then lines it by plucking her down feathers.
While the females take care of nest-building, the males are given the job of guarding them. The hens lay roughly 2-7 eggs in the interval of 2 days. These eggs are then incubated for 28-35 days.
Geese: mating and reproduction
Geese are one of the birds that mate for life, with very low divorce rates. Just like ducks, these waterfowls also mate annually.
Reaching sexual maturity
The geese attain sexual maturity comparatively later than the ducks. The ganders (male goose) reach sexual maturity earlier than the females, at the age of 3 years, while the dames (females) mature sexually around 3-4 years of age.
The mating season of geese
Geese typically mate between the months of early winter and spring.
Among the geese, the ganders (males) are the ones to court their partners, unlike the ducks. However, the final decision still rests with their female counterparts.
Once a prospective female has approved of a male’s advances, the gander becomes aggressively protective of them and fights off all the other males trying to advance.
The new couple then engages in a neck-dipping behavior, in which both of them dip their necks in the water. This behavior is indicative of the fact that mating will soon begin.
Geese are known to typically clean themselves and preen their feathers before they engage in copulation.
Once both partners are ready, the gander begins by spreading and flapping its wings and pecking its mate aggressively for a little while.
This is followed by the gander mounting the goose and the insertion of the penis. The entire process does not last longer than a couple of minutes.
Geese are known to mate about 5 times a day in the breeding season.
What happens next? (Nesting and egg-laying)
Just like the ducks, the female geese are responsible for the nest building. They do this by kicking their legs in the ground, digging up a depression large enough to hold the eggs.
This hole is then lined with twigs, mosses, leaves, lichen, and down. Some females also choose to build their nests in a large mound of vegetation. Their male partners have the responsibility of guarding the nest.
The geese lay about 5-18 eggs in a clutch; their eggs are larger than the ducks. The incubation of the eggs can last up to 25-40 days, depending on the species.
Domesticating ducks and geese: differences and similarities
Both ducks and geese are quite popular as farm animals and are reared and bred for their eggs and meat. Most people nowadays also like to keep them as pets and companions.
If you wanted to get one of these waterfowls as a pet, which one would you go for? Below are a couple of pointers that could help you in making a choice.
If you’ve ever had an animal or a bird as a pet, you would agree that the personality of every individual varies from the others.
However, just to give you a general idea of what to expect from these waterfowls, we’ll give you a little insight into their general personality traits.
Ducks are gentle, docile creatures that feel most at ease within a large group. However, they’re also a little skittish and can get scared easily, which means you’ll have to care for them more, particularly if you have kept only one or two of them.
On the other hand, the geese are more authoritative and territorial, making them suitable for being a watchdog. They’re loyal and affectionate, and once you bond with them, they’d enjoy playing around with you.
While the lifespan of a waterfowl, like all birds and animals, is dependent on many variable factors, the geese are generally known to live much longer than ducks.
While a duck can live up to 15 under proper care, the geese can survive till 30. So, if you’re looking for a pet that will accompany you for longer, geese are certainly a better choice for you.
In this article, we have discussed the major differences between the two waterfowls: ducks and geese. Although there is some confusion between the two birds at first glance, upon further inspection, it is quite clear that there are many differences between the two.
Ducks have a medium-sized body with short legs, while geese are bigger than ducks, with seemingly longer legs. There is also a vast difference between their plumage.
While geese have pale feathers, usually in the shades of grey or white, ducks are brightly colored, with their plumes ranging from blue to brown and green.
Lastly, the life expectancy of these birds also varies largely. Ducks are known to live for an average of 15 years with proper care, while geese can live up to 30 years. So, if you’re looking for a pet, you know which to go for.