While most birds do sleep at night, their sleeping habits still differ from most mammals. Most of the time, we never catch sight of birds sleeping, except for ducks, geese, and other large land or water birds that aren’t particularly shy of humans. So, where do geese sleep?
Geese are gregarious birds that sleep in large flocks outside the breeding season at least. Geese usually roost communally, meaning they sleep in large groups to stay safe. In the breeding season, geese become more territorial and may sleep alone or in pairs. Geese sleep on both dry land and the water, and many sleep standing on one leg to conserve warmth in cold regions.
Like many birds, geese have a few tricks up their sleeves when catching some shut-eye. For example, geese can sleep with one eye partially open, which allows them to monitor predators while still sleeping.
To accomplish this pretty awesome feat, geese shut down just one half of their brain to sleep while keeping the other half awake. This is called unihemispheric sleep and is rare across the animal kingdom.
Of course, there is much more to learn about the sleeping habits of these robust and cold-hardy birds, so read on to find out!
A pair of Greylag Geese sleeping in a pair in the water
Many species of geese sleep on one leg with their head tucked close to their chest. They can also sleep on land or in the water. Geese are gregarious birds that spend much of their year in large flocks. Most species of geese sleep in their flocks, which provides safety in numbers.
However, not all geese in the flock will sleep at the same time; geese that remain awake act as sentinels and alert sleeping geese if there’s a predator or other cause for alarm.
Canada geese have been observed sleeping in deep water and are content to drift on strong currents while sleeping in windy conditions. However, most roosting sites are positioned in shallow or calm water, on small islands, in reed beds, or in other safe locations.
Geese often form mixed flocks with swans, ducks, and other waterfowl, in which case you’ll find different species sleeping near each other.
While geese are typically friendly and sociable outside of the breeding season, they often become more territorial in the breeding season and form smaller flocks for roosting or roost alone or in their pairs.
Canada Goose having a sleep in shallow water
Geese are diurnal birds, meaning they’re awake during the day. Most geese sleep solely at night, but you can definitely catch them napping when they feel safe during the day.
It’s not uncommon to spot flocks of geese next to calm human-made rivers and lakes napping in the day since they know there are no predators around.
Many birds do not sleep for particularly long, around just 2 to 5 hours in many cases. Some do sleep longer - ducks can sometimes sleep for as many as 10 hours per day.
The problem is, birds sleep in short bursts and that makes it tricky to count their sleeping hours, especially because they don’t always close their eyes when sleeping! Geese are likely similar to most birds in that they probably don’t spend too long in a deep sleep.
Like many birds, geese take short power naps throughout the day and night, and you might not even recognize them as being asleep.
A small flock of geese asleep together
When they choose to sleep on dry land, geese often sleep standing or on one leg.
This helps them preserve body heat, as bird legs are generally unfeathered and poorly insulated. By tucking one leg into their body, geese essentially half the amount of heat they lose through their naked legs.
Geese are part of the waterbird family Anatidae and spend most of their lives in or around watery habitats. As such, geese sleep on the water regularly.
When they choose to sleep in the water, geese are still capable of swimming - Canada geese have been observed swimming in small 1-foot diameter circles when they nap on the water! Like many birds, geese can sleep without shutting their entire brain down.
A group of Canadian Geese resting on a frozen lake
Baby geese remain with their parents for months before leaving to join a juvenile flock.
In their first week or so, goslings often sleep with their mother in the nest, but they’re able to leave the nest and swim in just 24 hours or so.
Young geese will likely sleep next to their mother until they become independent.
Canadian Goose goslings having a sleep (whilst some are awake!)
Some birds are able to fly for colossal distances non-stop, including Frigatebirds, which can stay airborne for some two months without touching the ground!
This led scientists to suspect that birds are capable of sleeping while flying, a theory that was recently proven true. In 2016, scientists used electroencephalography (EEG) to monitor Frigatebird brains during migration and found that they sleep for around 45-minutes per day while flying.
Geese are also great migrators, but do they possess the same capability of sleeping while flying?
It seems possible, but there is currently no reliable data to suggest that geese specifically can sleep while flying. However, given that at least one strongly migratory seabird is capable of this talent, it wouldn’t be surprising if others were too.
Three Snow Geese in flight
There’s no reliable information to clarify whether geese can sleep while flying in the same fashion as Frigatebirds.
If geese can fly while sleeping, they would likely accomplish this with the same principles as Frigatebirds. Frigatebirds accomplish this by sleeping in a series of short 10-second bursts over the course of 45-minutes or so per day. In addition, frigatebirds only sleep while soaring upwards on thermal currents, not when descending.
Geese are waterbirds - they love the rain!
A goose’s dense, oily feathers are well-adapted for getting wet, and water doesn’t bother them at all. which essentially means their sleeping habits are completely unaffected when it rains, and they'll continue to sleep in the same locations.
A Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser Erythropus) sleeping
Geese are largely sociable and gregarious and spend much of their year in large flocks. Geese are especially sociable during migration and winter when they’re not breeding. During this time, geese roost in large communal groups.
This enables them to remain safe in numbers. Not all geese sleep at the same time, and those that don’t sleep keep a watchful eye to raise the alarm if there are any predators or threats nearby.
Many birds behave similarly - they realize that they’re vulnerable while sleeping, so they tend to sleep in groups, even when they're usually territorial.
Wintering Canadian Geese asleep in a large flock
Geese typically remain close to the water when sleeping, as that’s where they find most of their food. A study of Graylag geese found that most roosting sites were within 5km of foraging sites. So, geese do sleep in fields if they’re close enough to water.
Geese are large birds that nearly always nest on the ground. They’re not known to sleep in trees.
Geese are capable of sleeping with one or both eyes open. This is because they don’t need to shut down their entire brain to get a short burst of sleep in. Instead, geese can rest one half of the brain independent of the other in the process known as unihemispheric sleep.
Geese often sleep standing up if they’re not on the water. However, if they sleep while standing, many species of geese tuck one leg into their body to conserve heat. This is because birds lose a good deal of heat through their unfeathered legs - tucking one leg into the body halves heat loss through the legs.
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