Wild Geese in Captivity


Man has always been fascinated by, and has had a close association with, wild geese. As a result of their tendency to vocalize an objection to nocturnal disturbances, the early Romans utilized them as watchdogs ..

 Wild geese were frequently depicted on ancient structures. Indeed, the Swan goose of China, and the Greylag of Europe were domesticated eons ago, long before the dawn of written history. Even today the fascination exists, and wild geese have become increasingly popular with aviculturists.

Throughout the world there are some 15 species of wild geese, with numerous sub-species, all of which are native to the northern hemisphere. Interestingly, there are no true geese in the southern hemisphere. South America is represented by a specialized group known as sheldgeese, while Africa and Australia are represented by a number of birds with goose-like characteristics. Sheldgeese are actually modified ducks which, through the evolutionary process, have assumed goose-like similarities. One of the more obvious differences is the dimorphism of sexes characterized by sheldgeese - males being of completely different plumage than females. In true geese, both sexes are alike. Although the birds from the southern hemisphere are interesting in their own right, the differences are so great that they cannot be classified with the true geese.

The geese of the northern hemisphere are divided into two groups - the genus Anser, which is representative of the true geese, and the genus Branta, which represents a group known as Brent geese. The two forms are very closely allied. True geese differ from Brent geese in that they have colored feet and bills, with yellow, pink and orange being the norms, whereas feet and bills of Brent geese are always black. Although, as previously mentioned, the two forms are closely allied, they are non-theless sufficiently different that on the rare occasions when they hybridize the resulting offspring are sterile.

Perhaps the best known of North American geese is the Canada goose, Branta canadensis. As the scientific name indicates, it is a member of the family of Brent geese, and is represented by at least a dozen well defined sub-species. The European Greylag, Anser anser anser; a member of the clan of true geese, is one of the most familiar of the Eurasian area. It was domesticated thousands of years ago, and such forms as the Toulouse, Embden, Sebastopol and others have resulted. The name Greylag is interesting. The first part of the name is an obvious reference to plumage coloration. The latter part refers to the fact that they are late migrants and lag behind other geese in migration - thus Greylag, a grey goose which is a laggard! They are fine birds, and fortunately still exist in reasonable numbers throughout much of the old world.

Wild geese have been kept for centuries in Europe and Asia, and have more recently become popular in North America. Many excellent collections now exist in both Canada and the United States. Wild geese adjust well to captivity and, indeed, geese and humans appear to have an affinity one for the other. Given proper care, they thrive in captivity, and appear perfectly comfortable in a confined environment.

There is much to recommend geese to the aviculturist. All are handsome, and some spectacularly so. They tend to be both peaceful and gentle - much more so than their domestic counterparts. They breed well in captivity, their needs are not difficult, and they enjoy rather lengthy lifespans. Availability of most species of geese is good, and prices are reasonable. As compared to macaws, for example, the price for a pair of rare geese can be a pleasant surprise.

Aviculturists are frequently unaware of the requirements for the proper maintenance of geese. Our facility in Montana encompasses approximately 50 acres, and features a number of lakes and ponds. Interspersed are areas for grazing and loafing, all of which combine to make rather an ideal situation. Inasmuch as our flock contains several hundred birds, a fairly spacious area is indicated. Having made that description, it should be added that such a condition is far from a necessity. Geese can be maintained in a much smaller area, and actually adapt well to what might be described as a "back yard" situation. Given proper care, a pair of geese can be maintained perfectly well in a pen structure as small as ten feet by ten feet, and will, in fact, with good care, breed and rear young in such surroundings.

As is true with cattle and sheep, geese are grazing animals. Their primary sustenance is grass. Their digestive systems are geared to the ingestion of quantities of high fiber, low protein food. Nothing could be more descriptive of the needs of wild geese than the old nursery rhyme, "Three gray geese in a field full of grazing, gray were the geese and green was the grazing". Certainly to a goose, a field of green grazing is the ultimate in luxury. Green grass of spring and summer is the perfect food. However, geese will feed with equal gusto on the cured and brown grasses of fall and winter. In captivity, even when an abundance of grazing is available, supplementary food should be provided. All geese enjoy whole grains such as corn and wheat. Prepared feeds, such as turkey or chicken supplements, are excellent. Many commercial feeds are medicated, and feeds with such additives should be avoided. Non-medicated feeds, and those of approximately 16% protein are best. Geese which do not have natural grazing should be provided with supplemental green food. Greens such as lettuce and celery are very palatable, and provide the bulk their systems require. It is wise to wash such food to remove any possible residue of agricultural chemicals that might exist.

Once paired, geese mate for life.