All geese originate from the northern hemisphere. Known as 'true geese' to distinguish them from the 'look alike' sheldgeese of the southern hemisphere. They can be divided into two groups; pale-breasted geese and dark-breasted geese. The two groups make up a total of sixteen species from the popular Red-breasted Goose through to the less common Snow Goose.
In the wild, geese are gregarious, particularly so out of the breeding season, on migration and on their wintering grounds. In captivity a single pair of most species will thrive and breed but if space permits it is more natural to keep more than one pair of the same or different species together. Ornamental ducks may also be kept with ornamental geese, usually without difficulty although sheldgeese and some shelducks mix less successfully.
Geese need plenty of grazing space, so concentrate on ducks if your enclosure is small. Assuming extra feeding, in addition to grazing particularly in winter, a rough guide is ten pairs per acre. The birds must be enclosed and protected from predators; it is essential to have a 2 metre high (6'-8') fox proof fence.
Geese bond for life. While the sexes look identical they can breed in captivity in the third year. For breeding and otherwise, all geese need a pond. A pond of sufficient depth, say 50cms (18"), and an area large enough for two birds to bathe and turn over on their sides is a minimum requirement for a contented pair of captive geese.
BARNACLE GEESE Branta leucopsis
Barnacle Geese are popular amongst wildfowl collections with their striking looks and requirement for not too much space. The Barnacle Goose is distinguished by its white face, black head, neck and breast, together with white belly.
Barnacle Geese are highly vocal with a yapping note. Although easily tamed they can be more liable to panic than most geese.
In the wild Barnacle Geese can be nocturnally very active, often feeding on into the dark. Their natural habitat is tidal flats, coastal marshes and adjoining grazing areas.
Barnacle Geese breed readily from their third year, laying clutches of 4-6 eggs with an incubation period of 25 days. In their natural environment they frequently breed in colonies, selecting slopes and cliff tops as nesting ground.
RED-BREASTED GEESE Branta ruficollis
Red-breasted Geese are highly sought after in wildfowl collections and are now becoming more prolific in captivity. They have a beautiful and bold pattern of black, white and chestnut plumage and are the smallest of the northern geese.
During the breeding season Red-breasted Geese can be noisy, uttering a harsh and high pitched tone. Despite this they mix well with other waterfowl within a collection.
Red-breasted Geese are both agile fliers and more terrestrial than most northern geese. They overwinter and breed in a very limited number of sites in south eastern Europe.
Red-breasted Geese breed reluctantly in captivity, laying clutches of 3-7 eggs with an incubation period of 25 days. In their natural environment they nest in small colonies often near Peregrine Falcons which afford them some protection from predators.
BAR-HEADED GOOSE Anser indicus
The Bar-headed Goose is the most striking of the grey geese. The name of this very gracefully built bird derives from the two prominent horse shoe shaped, brownish-black bars enhancing the white head.
The general colour is pale grey. A slightly greater wing area for its weight, compared with other geese, enables the Bar-headed to migrate at exceptionally high altitudes over the Himalayas. The breeding is largely Central Asia and migration for the winter is to India, Assam and northern Burma.
The favoured summer habitats are the lakes at high altitudes where the short surrounding grass is appreciated.
Most winter grazing areas are currently under cultivation and the Bar-headed has become reliant on wheat, barley and rice crops resulting in considerable damage to the shoots of these crops.
Breeding is inclined to be in colonies consisting of thousands of birds. Avian predators, such as ravens, crows, kites and sea eagles, as well as foxes take their toll, but the overall population is possibly increasing.
This beautiful goose is well represented in collections. The elegant shape, pretty colour and the long slim neck are particularly appealing. It is perfectly hardy and breeds readily. Being highly sociable it does not molest other birds.