Ducks and geese look very similar to one another at a distance, but up close, they have quite a few key differences.
Despite both being waterbirds of roughly the same size and diet, ducks and geese are a lot more different than they are the same!
Ducks and geese are both waterbirds in the Anatidae family, including swans. Ducks are smaller and shorter than geese and have a flatter, more rounded bills. In addition, ducks are omnivorous, while geese are herbivorous. Their vocalizations and mating behaviors are also very different.
We’ll go over all their unique traits, from their bone structure to their diet, size, behaviors, and more.
Additionally, we’ll cover how to quickly and easily tell the difference between these two fascinating and valuable birds, whether you’re planning on keeping some of your own or simply find them interesting.
Are Ducks And Geese Both Birds?
Ducks and geese are both birds–more specifically, they’re water birds, also known as aquatic birds.
Waterbirds spend most of their lives in water, but they cannot breathe underwater, so they generally stick to the surface unless they’re searching for food.
Taxonomically, both ducks and geese are also classified as members of the Anatidae family of water birds, which consists of roughly 175 species of ducks, geese, and swans.
Species within this class of birds have many unique adaptations like webbed feet, short, stocky legs positioned towards the backs of their stout bodies, and feathers designed to resist water with ease.
Ducks and geese also have similarly sized and shaped bills made of keratin, the same material that makes up human hair and nails.
Their bills are perfectly adapted to catch fish, mollusks, and other small, aquatic animals.
Combined with their lightweight, buoyant bodies, both birds are ideally suited for swimming and spend most of their lives in water.
They can swim almost immediately after hatching!
Due to these many shared traits, ducks and geese commonly coexist in the same habitats and have similar diets and social behaviors.
Both birds are migratory, meaning they fly south in large groups for the winter to stay warm and then fly back north when summer rolls around.
At a glance, you’d be forgiven for confusing a duck for a goose and vice versa since they share many of the same traits and are classified as members of the same taxonomic bird families.
However, upon closer inspection, these water birds have far more differences than most people would imagine.
How Are Ducks and Geese Different?
The most apparent difference between ducks and geese is their size.
Though they share many characteristic features with ducks, geese tend to be larger yet also taller and slimmer, with more elongated bodies, necks, and legs.
On the other hand, ducks are much rounder, shorter, and stockier.
Part of the reason for this is the number of bones in each of these animals’ necks–while ducks generally have around 15 bones in their necks, geese (and, by extension, swans) usually have more than 20 neck bones.
Next, while both birds have uniquely webbed feet, the webbing on the toes of geese is larger, thicker, and covers more of their feet, which makes them slightly stronger swimmers than ducks on average.
Another interesting key difference between geese and ducks is the shape and structure of their bills.
Both are made of strong, durable keratin, but ducks have wider, more flat bills with rounded ends.
Their nostrils also sit higher up than those of geese.
By comparison, most species of geese have shorter and somewhat pointier, shorter bills with small ridges lining the sides.
Instead of using rough cartilage called tomia, neither type of bird has actual teeth to break apart their food.
The tomia on geese are usually sharper, larger, and denser than ducks.
Additionally, ducks and geese have very different vocalizations, which they use to communicate.
While ducks produce a “quacking” sound, geese are known for their deeper, louder honking sounds.
During their mating seasons, geese usually stay with their partners for life, while ducks mate generally with different partners each season.
How Do You Tell A Duck From A Goose?
If you’re attempting to determine if a certain waterbird is a duck or a goose, there are a few main characteristics you should pay attention to.
As we touched on earlier, the most obvious differentiator is their size and, by extension, their shape.
If you happen to see a duck and a goose side-by-side, you’ll be able to immediately tell which is which.
Generally, the taller and thinner bird is a goose, while ducks are shorter, rounder, and plumper.
Their bills are similar in this way as well–ducks have more flat and rounded beaks with nostrils set much higher up and closer to their face.
Even from a distance, a goose’s beak generally appears pointier and shorter, with visible ridges around the sides resembling teeth.
An even easier way to differentiate a duck from a goose is to pay close attention to their primary form of communication: vocalizations!
As we mentioned earlier, ducks make a somewhat quieter quacking sound, while geese are known for their loud, deep, intimidating honks.
If you’re still not entirely sure, take a look at the length of the bird’s neck.
Ducks have short, thick necks, while geese have long, slender, flexible necks.
Can Ducks Mate With Geese?
While ducks and geese can attempt mating, they cannot produce offspring together.
What’s more, ducks and geese tend not to seek one another out as potential mates, even though they do often share the same habitats and social circles.
It is very rare for a goose to show sexual interest in a duck or vice versa since they tend to have plenty of mates to choose from within their species.
Animals tend to focus on reproduction solely for survival rather than enjoyment like humans and other animals do.
Most ducks and geese instinctively understand that they aren’t able to genuinely produce offspring with one another on some fundamental level.
Since it’s rare for animals to expend energy on processes not related to survival or reproduction, you’ll rarely hear of or encounter wild ducks mating with geese during either birds’ mating season.
However, it is possible to crossbreed different types of ducks with one another and other types of geese with one another–they just aren’t able to breed with different species.
Can Ducks And Geese Live Together?
Of course, you don’t necessarily have to select one bird or the other!
You always have the option of building a merged flock of various goose and duck species, as they tend to get along reasonably well with one another.
You’ll also be able to house ducks and geese in virtually the same type of enclosure–a simple coop with a fenced-in area, ideally with a small pond.
Just keep an eye on your geese for any sudden aggressive or territorial behavior.
Although this is rare, confrontations sometimes break out between the two types of birds over resources and territory.
You’ll be able to quickly mitigate this, though, by providing plenty of space, food, water, shelter, and other resources to both members of your blended flock.
Hence, they aren’t in competition with one another.
The best part is ducks and geese in captivity also subsist on similar diets!
Both greatly enjoy cracked corn, oats, and a wide variety of vegetables and fruits.
Do Ducks Or Geese Make Better Pets?
Ducks and geese both make great pets for hobby farms, as they are very low-maintenance waterbirds.
They’re also highly social, intelligent, and enjoyable to watch, making both species an equally popular choice of pet.
If you’re primarily concerned with getting some kind of use or resources out of your farm animals, both birds produce similar amounts of delicious eggs and meat.
However, the average duck egg is smaller than the typical goose egg.
While both taste great, the species you end up choosing will mostly depend on your personal preferences.
Geese are sometimes more aggressive and difficult to herd than domesticated ducks as pets.
They tend to be less shy and fiercely protect their flocks, making them quite intimidating towards young children and even some timid adults!
Ducks tend to be more mellow and friendly, in turn making them less territorial, so many pet owners and folks with hobby farms will likely enjoy spending time with ducks more than geese.
However, this isn’t to say ducks don’t form bonds with their owners!
Even though they take a bit more time to warm up to people, many geese breeds immensely enjoy spending time with humans.
They can show a surprising level of understanding, playfulness, and intelligence.
One major factor to consider when getting pet ducks or geese is their respective noise levels.
While both are pretty noisy birds, especially in groups, geese are much louder on average.
Their booming honks are adorable to some, but if you live in a densely-populated area or somewhere with a strict HOA, look into local regulations first before you upset your neighbors with a flock of hooting geese at all hours of the day.
Additionally, while ducks tend to leave other farm animals alone, geese are sometimes a bit aggressive towards other animals and even humans, at least at first.
The type you choose will depend on which bird you like more.