Geese are stoutly built waterfowl in the same family as ducks and swans. Humans have been domesticating geese for some 2000 years, which is partly why they are woven into literature and folklore, as illustrated by well-known phrases and idioms such as “a wild goose chase” and “cooked his/her goose”.
Geese are large, stocky and often quite plump, so what do geese eat?
Most species of geese are omnivores, but their diet mainly consists of plant matter, particularly seeds, grass, roots, grains, bulbs, berries and aquatic plants. Some species, such as Canadian geese, are herbivores. Whilst geese are sometimes referred to as ‘greedy’; they’re actually notoriously picky eaters!
A social, gregarious and noisy bird that mates for life, geese live and breed primarily in the northern hemisphere and are thus well-adapted to the cold weather. Like many waterfowl such as ducks and swans, they have to maintain a thick layer of fat that protects their underside from cold water, which means their diet is quite demanding. Many species of geese breed in the far north, even as far north as the arctic tundra across Greenland, Canada and Siberia.
A family of Egyptian Geese foraging for food
Geese have strong serrated bills that are well-made for consuming dense plant matter. If they can’t find anything else to eat, then they’ll happily gorge themselves on grass. Grass is hardly the most nutritionally complete meal, which is why animals like geese, as well as other grazing animals such as cows, have to compensate by eating plenty of it.
A large goose can consume 1kg of grass in a day, which is around 1/5th of its total body weight and can spend as much as half its day feeding!
When geese consume grass, they’ll also likely be looking for roots, seeds and bulbs which have higher nutritional content than grass alone. Whilst geese likely aren’t searching for live insects; they’d probably not be too concerned about scooping up the occasional beetle or small worm whilst feeding.
Canadian Geese foraging for food in the grass
Like most waterfowl, geese eat aquatic plants like seaweed, kelp and watercress. However, geese generally feed on the land rather than on water. Geese may eat small aquatic insects or even small fish, though meat is certainly not their preferred diet.
Overall, geese are strongly inclined to eat grass plant matter and don’t go out of their way to feed upon aquatic insects and fish. They tend to feed on terrestrial plants rather than aquatic plants.
Canadian Geese diving for food in the water
Most, but not all geese migrate in the winter to avoid the cold. To build fat reserves, geese will increase their intake of carbohydrates by consuming more grains such as wheat and barley - carbohydrates also help birds create more body heat.
Geese are characteristically plump and stocky and have ample fat reserves - they’ll eat whatever they need to maintain their proudly rotund body!
A goose’s diet consists mainly of plant matter. Grains such as barley, oats and wheat, as well as birdseed, sweetcorn, vegetables and grasses such as clovers and bluegrass provide a balanced diet for geese.
Despite their big appetites, both wild and domesticated geese are renowned for being fussy eaters (and are very particular in general!). Different geese have different tastes, even within the same flock! The term “as greedy as a goose” probably wouldn’t be as fitting as “as picky as a goose”!
Geese feeding on grains out of a hand
Whilst geese often choose to consume a high-carb diet, it’s important that they’re not overfed on ‘empty carbs’ such as bread. Mouldy bread and other mouldy food can be extremely toxic to both geese and many other species of birds. Geese require a diverse diet and should be offered a choice of food.
Another consideration is that overfeeding geese on bread and other ‘empty carbs’ increases defecation which can leave their feeding areas prone to bacterial and fungal growth. This can damage the ecosystem and not just pose harm for geese and other birds, but for other mammals, insects and even dogs.
The staple food of a gosling’s diet is plain grass and clovers. Domesticated goslings are usually fed chickweed too. In the wild, geese usually choose rich grassy pastures for their nests where there is an abundance of various grasses for chicks to feed on.
Goslings don’t have complex dietary requirements and their stomachs are perfectly adapted to weaning on soft plant food. They thrive on grass and will grow quickly until they’re ready to fledge after 3 months and leave the family unit after some 9 months.
Egyptian Goslings feeding on a grass pasture
Geese are generally omnivorous but they don’t need meat of any sort to thrive. Whilst geese are very capable of consuming small invertebrates and even small fish, this is by no means the focus of their diet.
For all intents and purposes, geese can be considered herbivores and will happily graze on grass and other plant material whilst ignoring insects and other small animals.
There is much debate about whether it’s safe and reasonable to feed birds bread.
The main issue is not that bread is toxic or dangerous to birds, provided it isn’t mouldy, but that it’s nutritionally incomplete. A bird with a full belly of bread will not search out more nutritious foods. So whilst feeding geese bread (preferably seeded or wholemeal) in small quantities is generally ok, it’s usually not encouraged.
Geese are borderline herbivores and most species will rarely consume meat or fish.
Some species like Canada geese are indeed considered herbivores. Geese are well-equipped for maintaining their hefty plant-based diets and will not likely need to resort to consuming fish and meat.
Apples are an excellent source of energy for geese and other birds. Rather than feeding geese large chunks of apples it’s best to cut them down into easily manageable chunks.
A pair of geese eating an apple
Most domestic and wild birds can eat grapes. Interestingly, Canada geese and many other birds are repulsed by a certain chemical used in non-toxic bird repellent called methyl anthranilate, which is used as a synthetic grape flavouring. Natural grapes are all good, though!
Geese are borderline vegetarian but will sometimes consume insects and perhaps even the infrequent small fish. They thrive on plant matter and do not need meat as part of their diet. Geese are amongst the most herbivorous of waterfowl and consume more plant matter on balance than either ducks or swans.
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