There are various types of geese, each equally unique, thriving in different habitats across the globe. Join us as we discover valuable knowledge and insights about these overlooked members of the bird world.
Geese fall into two principal genera: Anser and Branta. Anser includes the white and grey geese, while Branta refers mainly to the black geese species. These genera exhibit notable differences, which you can learn in the following section.
On the other hand, the American Poultry Association recognized three weight classes that farmers can use to guide in choosing and raising domesticated goose breeds. These are Heavy, Medium, and Light.
Some unique domestic goose breeds are the Tufted Roman Goose with distinctive tufts and Sebastopol Geese with curly feathers. There are also famous ones like the African Goose, American Buff Goose, and Embden Goose. Some recent breeds are Pilgrim Geese and Steinbacher Geese.
However, in this list, we will exclusively focus on wild geese.
Related Read: Goose Facts.
The Canada Goose looks striking, with its black head and neck contrasting against its white cheeks and chin.
Despite their name, humans have introduced Canada Geese to various regions worldwide. They can now be found in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands.
Notably, they fly in a V-shape, a natural spectacle and a clever tactic that reduces wind resistance, making their long migratory journeys much more manageable4.
Their diet consists of green vegetation and grains, particularly various types of grasses, when on land.
During breeding and nesting season, the parents work together to protect their nest and ensure the survival of their offspring. A female goose also lays three to eight eggs.
The White-fronted Goose has black-speckled undersides, earning it the nickname 'specklebelly'.
This bird, belonging to the Anatidae family, is of medium size and stands out with its bright orange legs and feet.
Its name comes from the white patch extending from its bill to above the eye.
These birds migrate from their natural habitats in North America and Eurasia. Specifically, they travel long distances from the Arctic tundra of Canada, Alaska, and Siberia to warmer regions such as California, the Southern United States, Mexico, and some parts of Europe.
These birds have a diverse diet, including grasses, grains, and roots. In the winter, they can also eat crops and seeds.
Despite being hunted for sport, their overall population remains stable. These birds can thrive in various environments, from Arctic tundras to agricultural fields.
The Snow Goose is a North American bird species with white plumage1. Interestingly, there are also Blue Geese, which are just Snow Geese in a grey-blue color variation.
This type of goose migrates yearly in large groups from subarctic regions where they breed to the warmer southern areas of the United States and Mexico.
Snow Geese live in tundras, marshes, and agricultural fields during winter. Then, they move to coastal marshlands, estuaries, and freshwater wetlands.
Their diet consists of roots, tubers, stems, leaves of grasses, and sedges, as well as grains and berries when available.
The Brent Goose is a small bird with a black head, neck, and chest. While North Americans call it the Brant Goose, the name 'Brent' is more common worldwide. Their name comes from the Old Norse word 'brandgás,' which means 'burnt goose,' reflecting its dark coloring.
These coastal birds live in the Arctic tundra. Then, during winter, they migrate to coastal marshes, estuaries, and tidal flats.
Additionally, in the winter season, these geese eat eelgrass and seaweeds, but during the breeding season in the Arctic tundra, they consume leaves, stems, and seeds of grasses and sedges.
The Ross's Goose is a small bird with a pink-red bill and a shorter neck, living in Canada's part of the Arctic. Its coat is pure white, and it has black wingtips that are visible only when in flight.
It is smaller than its cousin, the Snow Goose.
During the autumn, Ross's Geese migrate from the Arctic to the warmer areas of the southern United States and northern Mexico. They prefer wetlands, prairies, and agricultural fields and feed on green vegetation, seeds, and grains.
The Bean Goose sports a brown head and back, light tan neck, barred white belly, brown wing feathers with white tips, and orange legs. They prefer feeding on bean field stubble, hence the name, but consume different grasses, leaves, and grains.
During their seasonal migration, Bean Geese depart from their summer habitats in northern parts of Europe and Asia, including Scandinavia, Russia, and Mongolia. They journey towards warmer regions like the UK, the Netherlands, China, and Japan.
The Pink-footed Goose is native to Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard. Its body is grey-brown with a lighter belly and a dark brown head and neck, while its feet and lower beak are pink.
These geese fly in large flocks while migrating to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Moreover, they exhibit fantastic aerial abilities, though they are more agile on land due to their short legs.
These birds primarily feed on plant matter, roots, shoots, and leftover crops.
The Barnacle Goose is a stunning bird with a white face against a black neck and upper breast, while its feathers are black, white, and silver-grey.
Besides their migratory habits, these geese also feature in an old wives’ tale that claims they hatch from barnacles due to their migration every summer and reappearance in the winter.
The Barnacle Goose breeds on the frosty Arctic islands of the North Atlantic, including Greenland, Svalbard, and Novaya Zemlya.
During the cold winter, their diet mainly consists of grasses and grains, while they shift to mosses, lichens, and aquatic vegetation in the summer.
The Red-breasted Goose flaunts a vibrant chest, black head and neck, and white facial patches. It is also the smallest species in the genus Branta.
This type of goose lives in the remote Arctic regions of Russia, specifically the Taimyr, Gydan, and Yamal Peninsulas, where it lays eggs in the Arctic tundra.
Interestingly, this bird can bond with birds of prey, specifically the Peregrine Falcon. By nesting near these raptors, the goose uses their fearsome reputation to ward off predators like the Arctic Fox from its young.
During winter, these geese fly to milder climates in southeastern Europe, such as Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Romania, where they feed on winter wheat and other crops.
Unfortunately, IUCN listed the Red-breasted Goose as a vulnerable species due to excessive hunting and climate change3.
The Emperor Goose has a head and hindneck covered in white feathers; their body is adorned with gray plumage. They also possess pinkish legs and a strong bill with a white tip.
While not the largest bird, they boast an impressive wingspan of up to 53 inches, with an average length of 26 to 28 inches.
These geese inhabit the cold regions of western Alaska and northeastern Siberia, where they thrive in the coastal tundra, filled with grass, sedge meadows, and small ponds.
Finally, Emperor Geese have a varied diet, including aquatic plants' leaves, stems, seeds, mollusks, and crustaceans.
The Snow Goose has a unique blue-grey to dark-grey color variation, often mistaken for a distinct species. Its genetic makeup is responsible for this unique coloration, giving a stunning contrast against its white natural habitat.
This type of goose is native to North America and migrates to different areas yearly. During the summer, it nests in cooler climates in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, while in the fall, it flocks to the central and southern United States.
This goose feeds primarily on plants, including roots, stems, leaves, and seeds from aquatic plants and grasses. During the winter, it switches to foraging in agricultural fields and consuming grains and berries.
This adaptable bird lives in various open habitats, such as the tundra for nesting and agricultural areas, marshes, and shallow lakes for wintering.
The Greater White-fronted Goose is a remarkable species of waterfowl, identifiable through the white band around its bill. This goose is large, with a dark brown body, orange legs, and a pink bill. Its call is also unique, consisting of loud, almost laughing notes.
It is a highly adaptable species found in various regions around the globe, including North America, Europe, Asia, and parts of northern Africa.
During migration, these birds travel in large flocks, forming V formations in the sky. They breed in the Arctic tundra, building their nests on the ground near water sources.
When winter arrives, they seek warmer climates in various habitats, including agricultural lands, marshes, and prairies.
Their diverse diet comprises grasses, grains, roots, and small invertebrates.
The Lesser White-fronted Goose boasts a white patch on its forehead and beak and a dark brownish-black hue on its head and neck, contrasting with its light grey body. This medium-sized goose also has a splash of yellow on its wings that becomes visible during flight.
The Lesser White-fronted Goose breeds in the Arctic tundra of northernmost Europe and Asia. During the colder months, it migrates to warmer climates in China, Japan, and India.
Moreover, it prefers to breed in wetlands, marshes, and lakes and migrates to agricultural fields and grasslands during winter.
They mainly consume grasses, roots, and seeds. However, they also feed on aquatic vegetation and small invertebrates during the breeding season.
Sadly, because of disturbance on breeding grounds, hunting, invasive species, and habitat destruction, Lesser White-fronted Geese are declared vulnerable species by the IUCN.
The Greylag Goose lives in both Europe and Asia. Its feathers are medium-grey with lighter ones scattered throughout, and it has a pink beak that contrasts with its orange or pink legs. Interestingly, its name 'greylag' refers to its tendency to lag behind other birds during migration.
This wild goose is also the predecessor of many domestic geese; people developed them in northern Africa, western Asia, and Europe. Some resulting domesticated geese breeds are the Czech Goose and the Toulouse Goose, known for foie gras.
During colder months, they migrate southward in search of warmer temperatures. However, some populations in the UK and Netherlands choose to remain in their habitats year-round.
These types of geese are adaptable creatures in wetlands, marshes, fields, urban areas, and farmlands. They primarily consume grass, roots, and seeds but sometimes supplement their diet with insects and aquatic creatures.
Native to Africa’s plains and wetlands, the Egyptian Geese hold great cultural and historical significance. For instance, the ancient Egyptians held them sacred and frequently depicted them in their art.
The origins of the Egyptian Goose lie in the Nile Valley and sub-Saharan Africa, but it has now spread across Europe and the Americas.
It has a brownish-grey coat, with dark brown eye patches and a pinkish bill. Moreover, its wings blend green, white, and chestnut, showing a muted rainbow effect when in flight.
The Egyptian Goose is a ground-dwelling bird that often perches high in trees or walks elegantly on the ground. It lives in wetlands, marshes, lakes, and urban environments.
The tall Swan Goose, or “Chinese Goose,” lives in East Asia. This species is another descendant of many domestic geese, like the Chinese and African geese.
They have light grey feathers, dark grey-brown wings, black legs, and a bill, creating contrast. The domesticated ones will look different. For example, the Chinese geese sport black bills and grayish-brown or white plumage; the white variety has orange feet and bills.
As their name suggests, their distinguishing feature is its long neck, resembling a swan.
During winter, they migrate from the wetlands and grasslands of Mongolia and China to the warmer regions of southern China and Vietnam.
Unfortunately, due to poor breeding conditions and many other factors, wild and domestic Swan Geese are uplisted by IUCN as vulnerable species.
The Bar-headed Goose can fly across the Himalayan mountains twice a year. According to anecdotal reports, they can go above the highest peaks in the Himalayas. A study says they can do this feat because specialized physiological traits improve oxygen transport in hypoxia2.
They are originally from Central Asia and are known for their incredible winter migration to the Indian subcontinent. It has a distinctive appearance with two black bars on its head.
These geese congregate near wetlands, lakes, and rivers, feeding on grasses, roots, seeds, and berries.
The Cackling Goose has feathers with dark brown upper parts and lighter underparts. The head and neck are especially notable and feature glossy black feathers and a white "chinstrap." This type of goose got its name from its high-pitched cackling call.
Despite being relatively small, the Cackling Geese call the vast northern North American tundra their home. They live in various terrains of northern Canada and the wilderness of Alaska.
When winter comes, this bird migrates southwards to the milder Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and Atlantic coast climates.
These animals can live in the wet tundra and urban and suburban areas, consuming grasses, berries, and aquatic plants. They also eat crops such as corn and wheat during winter.
The Hawaiian Goose, or Nene, has partially webbed feet that resemble claws, which make it well-suited for navigating the rocky terrain of Hawaii. Its plumage is a combination of grey-brown color, with black and cream streaks, and its black face, cap, and bill are distinct attributes that make it recognizable.
The Nene, Hawaii's state bird, is a ground-dwelling bird that primarily feeds on native plant seeds, berries, leaves, and occasionally invertebrates.
Its nesting season occurs between November and March, during which both parents take care of their goslings and teach them vital survival skills.
The Spur-winged Goose has sharp spurs on its wing, a self-defense mechanism. Male geese are generally larger than females and have white facial plumage.
They are commonly found in the wetlands of sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Ethiopia and South Africa. They prefer open waters, such as lakes, rivers, and marshes, surrounded by flourishing vegetation.
Our final type of goose primarily eats grasses, aquatic plants, and seeds but occasionally consumes small fish, crustaceans, and insects.
Mowbray, T. B., Ely, C. R., Sedinger, J. S., & Trost, R. E. (2020). Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Scott, G. R., Milsom, W. K., & Hawkes, L. A. (2015). How Bar-headed geese fly over the Himalayas. Physiology, 30(2), 107-115.
BirdLife International. (2017). Branta ruficollis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017
Tobalske, B. W. (2007). Biomechanics of bird flight. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 210(18), 3135–3146.