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Goose vs. Duck: Similarities And Differences Explained

You may take one glance at a goose and duck and mistake one for the other because of their similar appearance. Both have broad webbed feet and flat beaks and belong to the waterfowl family, also known as the Anatidae family.  

But while ducks and geese have some similarities, key differences make both ducks and geese stand out. Read on as we explore ducks and geese, looking at the differences between these birds and how you can tell one from the other. 

Ducks and Geese: Origin and species 

goose and duck
Goose (Photo by Emilio Sánchez on Pexels), Duck (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.).

Both ducks and geese belong to the Anatidae, or waterfowl family, which also includes swans. Ducks have unique behaviors, which classify them into categories. Some of these categories include dabbling ducks, diving ducks, perching ducks, and goldeneyes, of which there are various species in each category. Duck species include mallards, which are dabbling ducks, and Sea ducks, which are diving ducks. 

As we already mentioned, geese belong to the waterfowl family. Some of the most common species of geese include the Canada goose, Snow geese, and Brant geese.

Related Reads: Goose Facts, Duck Facts.

Goose vs. Duck: Physical appearance    

Here are some physical characteristics that make ducks and geese different: 

Size and weight  

duck size
Duck, Photo by Ravi Singh on Unsplash.

Typically, ducks range in size from small to medium, with a few species reaching large sizes. For example, one of the most common duck species, the Mallard duck, weighs around 1 to 3 pounds and is 20-26 inches long.

The Muscovy duck is a larger species that weighs around 6 to 15 pounds with a length of up to 33 inches. However, the average duck typically weighs anywhere from 2 to 5 pounds. 

On the other hand, geese tend to be larger and heavier than ducks. These birds can weigh between 10 and 20 pounds; larger geese species may weigh much more. 

The Canada Goose can weigh between 6.6 and 19.8 pounds, with lengths that reach up to 43 inches. Overall, geese are generally larger than ducks.

Body shape and plumage

snow goose
Goose, Photo by Rhododendrites on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

One trait that makes ducks unique is their beautiful plumage and body shape. Ducks have rounded heads, long necks, compact bodies, and brightly colored feathers. Several species have different vibrant colors, patterns, and markings on their bodies. For example, Mandarin ducks have colorful feathers that combine bright oranges, greens, and blues. 

You will find many ducks with spots, patches, eye stripes, and other intricate patterns that give them a unique appearance. Male ducks have much more colorful feathers than female ducks. The female ducks have a damper plumage which helps them camouflage during breeding season. 

On the other hand, geese have an elongated body shape and don't have the same vibrant plumage that ducks have. Their plumage is mostly brown or gray, which helps them camouflage well into their habitats and protects them from predators. 

Geese species like the Snow Goose have white plumage and black wingtips. The Greylag Goose has a mix of brown and gray feathers. Some goose species transform their plumage during the breeding season. Overall, ducks have more outstanding and unique plumage than geese. 

Necks, beaks, and feet 

duck bill
Duck, Photo by Paul Albertella on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Ducks have unique beaks and feet that help with their specific feeding habits and semi-aquatic lifestyle. They possess short necks and broad, flat bills with tiny serrations along their edges. 

The duck bills help filter water and extract aquatic plants and tiny organisms like crustaceans, small fish, and insects. 

Ducks are excellent swimmers and this is thanks to their webbed feet which allow them to navigate through water and swim effortlessly. Their feet also help them walk on land and muddy surfaces, preventing them from sinking. 

Looking at the goose, these large birds have longer necks, unique beaks, and feet, which, like ducks, help them adapt to their life in water and on land. Their pointed and elongated beaks help them graze on aquatic plants and vegetation. Their beak structure allows the goose to pluck and quickly eat aquatic vegetation. 

Like ducks, the geese have webbed feet that help them swim effortlessly through the waters. Their feet also help them walk in marshy and muddy areas, easily moving across wetlands and grasslands. 

One thing that sets these wild birds apart from each other is their unique anatomical features. The geese have a longer neck and more vertebrae than ducks in their necks. They also have large neck bones and legs, which help to support their body. 

In fact, scientists can differentiate between these two birds based on the number of bones in their necks. Ducks have up to 16 or fewer bones, while geese and swans have between 17 and 24 neck bones. While both have webbed feet, ducks tend to have shorter legs and less prominent webbing than geese. 

Goose vs. Duck: Diet 

Depending on the specific breed, ducks and geese have different diets. Geese are known for consuming herbivorous diets like plant matter both in and out of water. 

On the other hand, ducks eat a wide variety of fish and crustaceans depending on their environment and are omnivores. So, while ducks prefer to eat small fish and crustaceans, ducks and geese eat plants in water and on land. 

Goose vs. Duck: Mating and breeding              

goose mating
Goose, Photo by MONGO on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The mating and breeding season is quite different for ducks and geese. While both birds are monogamous, it depends on the season of their life. The goose is completely monogamous, sticking to one partner for the rest of its life.

Ducks, on the other hand, are monogamous during a specific breeding season. This means that when the next breeding season comes, ducks will move around in search of a new mate. In other words, geese mate for life, while ducks form seasonal bonds. 

Some studies show that the goose's total monogamy is one reason it is more aggressive than the duck when caring for their young1. Both parents are responsible for caring for their gosling, which means the male goose doesn’t leave it all to the female goose.

While geese and swans have both parents active in raising their offspring, this is not so with ducks. Male ducks do not invest their energy in raising offspring. You will typically see a long line of ducklings follow their mother dutifully. Female ducks provide warmth, protection, and guidance for their ducklings. 

Goose vs. Duck: Lifespan 

Lifespan is another factor that differentiates the duck and goose. Ducks generally have a shorter lifespan than geese. While wild ducks live for up to 10 years or more, wild geese can live for up to 20 years or even more.

Ducks are smaller and less aggressive, making them more prone to predator attack. Sadly, many ducklings do not live an entire year due to predator attacks. Geese live longer as they are aggressive protectors of their young. 

Goose vs. Duck: Habitats    

duck in water
Duck, Photo by hitesh choudhary on Pexels.

You can spot ducks in various habitats as these birds are highly adaptable. You can find large flocks in wetlands like marshes, ponds, and rivers. These water bodies are excellent food sources where ducks can find insects, fish, and crustaceans. 

Dabbling ducks like the mallard typically prefer shallow waters where they can easily reach the bottom to feed. Meanwhile, diving ducks prefer deeper water to dive in to feed on fish and other aquatic animals. 

When they migrate, you can also find ducks in coastal areas and other species in open waters. They are found in different regions around the world, from North and South America to Europe, Asia, and Africa. 

Geese are adaptable and live in a wide range of habitats but prefer grasslands and fields where they can graze on grasses. You can find the goose in various parts of the world, including North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. 

Geese vs. Ducks: Behavior 

goose behavior
Goose, Photo by Didgeman on Needpix.

Ducks and geese also differ in their behavior. The goose is aggressive and is even more aggressive when protecting its young. In fact, people use some domestic goose breeds, like the Chinese goose, as guard animals. 

On the other hand, most ducks have mild temperaments and live a more sedentary lifestyle. Some duck species will breed in Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and then migrate south during winter. 

Both geese and ducks use vocalizations to find food sources, signal danger, and attract a mate. Ducks quack while geese honk. They also use visual signals to communicate with one another. For example, geese use their wings and bodies to signal aggression, and male ducks use their colorful feathers to attract female ducks. 

Both are also social creatures, primarily seen in large groups. Both are migratory birds, traveling long distances to feed and breed. The timing of their migration typically depends on weather changes and the availability of food. Not all ducks migrate, but most species of geese do. 

Wrapping up: Goose vs. Duck

In the quack-off between these two birds, the goose and the duck have unique charm and characteristics that set them apart within the waterfowl or Anatidae family. 

The geese are large birds with longer necks, an imposing presence, and strong family bonds, while ducks are smaller birds that captivate you with their vibrant plumage and diverse behavior. Both play a crucial role in the world of waterfowl and our natural world.  

1

Szipl, G., Loth, A., Wascher, C. a. F., Hemetsberger, J., Kotrschal, K., & Frigerio, D. (2019). Parental behaviour and family proximity as key to gosling survival in Greylag Geese (Anser anser). Journal of Ornithology, 160(2), 473–483.

By Jennifer Okafor, BSc.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Goose, Photo by Alexis Lours on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original) and Duck, Photo by Georgios Michalogiorgakis on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original)
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