Goose vs. Duck: What’s the Difference?

Goose vs duck

Geese and ducks, both belonging to the family Anatidae, are familiar sights in many landscapes, from rural ponds to urban parks. While they share some similarities, these two bird types also have distinct differences that set them apart.

Geese are generally larger with longer necks, more prominent in flight, and often migrate in recognizable V-formations. Ducks are smaller, with shorter necks and a wider variety of colors and patterns.

Behaviorally, geese are more vocal and aggressive, particularly during breeding season, while ducks are generally quieter and more adaptable in different habitats.

This article delves into the key differences between geese and ducks, exploring their unique physical features, behaviors, and habitats. Continue reading to learn more!

Summary of Goose vs. Duck

Goose in white backgroundDuck in white background
Body Shape:
Bigger, plumper, and more muscular
Body Shape:
Smaller, more slender, and less stocky
30–45 in (76.2–114.3 cm)
12–20 in (30.5–50.8 cm)
15–20 lbs (6.8–9.1 kg)
2–5 lbs (0.9–2.3 kg)
Softer; often light or dull in color
Firmer, brightly colored, and intricately patterned feathers
Flight Speed:
10–70 mph
Flight Speed:
40–60 mph
Swimming Speed:
0.5–1 mph
Swimming Speed:
0.6–6 mph
More aggressive and territorial
More docile and friendly yet fierce
Deeper calls; they cluck, honk, and moan
Sharper calls; they quack, coo, and trill
Tundras, lakes, ponds, streams, marshes, wetlands
Marshes, oceans, wooded swamps, grain fields, ponds, rivers, lakes, bays, parks
Roots, shoots, stems, seeds, leaves of grass and grain, bulbs, and berries
Aquatic vegetation, seeds, insects, worms, small water snails, amphibians, and crustaceans
15–20 years
8–15 years

10 Key Differences Between a Goose and a Duck

Without a doubt, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a goose and a duck. They are both water birds and members of the family Anatidae, after all. Yet, below are the 10 key differences between these two avians:

1. Body Shape

Ducks perched on a tree stump in water

When distinguishing between geese and ducks, their body shapes offer clear clues. Ducks are generally smaller and more slender. Further, their legs and necks are shorter, which contributes to an overall compact build.

The bills of ducks are another distinctive feature. They tend to have longer, flattened beaks. Additionally, ducks have fewer neck bones, usually 16 or fewer, which influences their neck structure and movement.

Geese, on the other hand, present a more robust and muscular form. They are noticeably larger and plumper than ducks, giving them a more imposing presence.

Moreover, these birds possess a greater number of neck bones, ranging from 17 to 24, which in turn contributes to their longer necks.

2. Size and Weight

Goose and duck walking on concrete

Ducks are the smaller cousins in the waterfowl family, with their size ranging from 12 to 20 inches. They’re also pretty lightweight. They tip the scales at a mere 2 to 5 pounds.

On the flip side, geese tower over their duck relatives. They usually stand tall at 30 to 45 inches. Their substantial size is matched by their weight, as they can weigh between 15 and 20 pounds.

Watch this short clip to see geese and ducks interacting together:

Feeding the Ducks & Geese at the Park

3. Plumage and Coloration

Duck by the waters edge looking to the side

Ducks are known for their vibrant plumage, particularly in males or drakes. These birds often display a spectrum of bright colors and intricate patterns, which capture the attention of both mates and observers. Their feathers are firmer than those of geese, as well.

In contrast, geese tend to have more subdued coloration. Their plumage is often light or dull, lacking the dramatic patterns seen in ducks.

Moreover, unlike ducks, geese are mostly not sexually dimorphic, meaning both males and females have similar plumage, which is typically soft to the touch.

Despite the color differences between ducks and geese, both are regarded for their waterproof feathers. This is thanks to the preen gland near their tails that secretes oil.

4. Speed and Movement

Goose on sandy ground

Ducks may not be the fastest in the sky, with their flight speed ranging from 40 to 60 miles per hour, but they excel in the water. They are adept swimmers; they often move at speeds between 0.6 and 6 miles per hour.

Geese, in contrast, soar through the skies at impressive speeds, reaching anywhere from 10 to 70 miles per hour. However, they are slow swimmers. They manage only about up to one mile per hour in the water.

Fun Fact: There’s a good reason why ducklings follow their mother in a row. A 2021 study revealed that they do this to ride the waves created by their mother, conserving their energy as they paddle through the water.

5. Temperament and Behavior

Duck on a green foliage background

Geese are known for their aggressive behavior and are capable of defending their territory violently. This natural inclination to protect their space makes them more confrontational than their duck counterparts.

Meanwhile, ducks are typically a friendly bunch. However, when it comes to raising their ducklings, they show a surprising tenacity. They become quite protective in the presence of potential threats.

6. Vocalization

Goose standing in the garden

Geese are known for their loud, resonant calls that range from a clucking sound to a mournful honk.

Each morning, when I walk along the pond near my house, the honking of the geese pierces the air. Their guttural, echoing calls of “herr-onk-onk-onk” ring out as they communicate with each other or warn off intruders.

On the other hand, ducks make sharp, varied noises. I often hear emphatic, rising quacks of “oo-eek, oo-eek” as they chatter back and forth. Their range includes soft coos and loud, rolling trills as well.

7. Habitat

Goose walking on gravel

Geese are typically found in colder climates like tundras. But they also frequent lakes, ponds, streams, and wetlands. Their preference for these habitats aligns with their need for open spaces and large water sources.

On the other hand, ducks have a broader habitat range, from marshes and wooded swamps to grain fields and oceanic coasts. Yet, as with geese, they can also be spotted in rivers, lakes, and streams.

8. Diet and Feeding Habits

Goose stretching its neck upward

Geese are herbivorous. These fowls primarily feast on the roots, shoots, stems, seeds, and leaves of grass and grain. They also enjoy bulbs and berries, which they forage with their firm, rounded beaks.

Contrastingly, ducks are less fussy eaters, with an omnivorous diet that includes aquatic vegetation, seeds, insects, worms, mollusks, snails, amphibians, and crustaceans.

9. Lifespan

Duck standing on a wooden dock

Geese are known for longevity, often living 15 to 20 years in the wild. Their longer lifespan is partly attributed to their territorial and aggressive nature, which helps them fend off predators and protect their habitat.

On the flip side, ducks generally have a shorter life expectancy. They can only live from 8 to 15 years.

The survival rate of these birds is influenced by various factors, including their habitat’s safety, the presence of predators, the risk of disease, and the reliability of their food and water sources.

10. Nest and Eggs

Duck incubating her eggs

Geese normally choose nesting sites that offer protection and isolation, such as high mountain cliffs, behind tall grasses, or near wetlands. These locations provide safety from predators and easy access to water.

In terms of reproduction, geese lay a clutch of 12 to 15 eggs, which they incubate for a period ranging from 28 to 35 days.

Ducks, on the other hand, display more versatility in their nesting choices. They often build nests in upland habitats, over large water bodies, or even in tree cavities.

Productivity-wise, some domesticated ducks are prolific layers, producing 150 to 300 eggs annually. Their incubation period is also slightly shorter than that of geese. Specifically, their eggs often hatch in 25 to 28 days.

How to Tell Them Apart

To distinguish geese from ducks, observe their size. Geese are typically larger with longer necks. Listen to their calls, as well. Geese produce deep honks, while ducks make sharper quacks.

Moreover, look at their behavior and temperament. Geese are more aggressive and territorial, while ducks are relatively docile but protective of their young.

Check their habitats, too. Geese prefer open areas like tundras and wetlands. In contrast, ducks are more versatile, inhabiting everything from marshes to parks.

Finally, observe their movements. Geese are faster in flight but slower in water, whereas ducks are the opposite.

Frequently Asked Questions

Mixed color geese walking in a green field

Are Geese Related to Ducks?

Yes, geese are related to ducks. Both belong to the Anatidae family, which also includes swans. Despite this kinship, they are classified under different genera or sub-families.

Can Geese and Ducks Live Together?

Geese and ducks often coexist peacefully in the same habitats, such as ponds, lakes, and marshes. To be specific, they benefit from shared resources and space.

Can Ducks and Geese Mate?

Surprisingly, ducks and geese can mate, although such occurrences are rare.

A 2016 study highlighted that hybridization among waterfowl does happen. However, it is an uncommon event, typically observed in controlled environments where species barriers are lessened.

We hope this article has clarified the key differences between geese and ducks. If you have any further questions or insights about these fascinating birds, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

Leave a Comment

You may also like