Although we usually picture geese eating bread and seeds, this is really not their natural diet and outside of duck ponds and parks. They eat plenty of other foods!
Geese are mostly herbivores, but will also eat bugs or very small fish occasionally. They are sometimes referred to as insectivores or piscivores. Most of a goose’s diet comes from plants, seeds, grasses, and aquatic plants.
In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why geese aren’t truly herbivores even though they don’t eat meat, the rare circumstances when they do eat meat, and the hunting abilities of geese.
Can Geese Eat Meat?
Geese COULD eat meat, but they don’t usually consume meat apart from very small fish because goose stomachs are not equipped to extract nutrients from meat the same way humans are.
A goose’s digestive system lacks the protein-splitting enzymes necessary for breaking down meat protein, meaning they can’t extract the nutrients they need from meat. In addition, geese have very short digestive tracts which are not long enough to break down the complex fats and proteins found in meat.
In fact, geese don’t have a great ability to break down plant material either and have to make use of small pebbles, rocks, and sand to help them digest their food.
Geese will swallow small fragments of rock and sand and these rocks rub together inside their stomachs, helping them to break down plant material quickly so that they can be digested.
Since geese can’t chew, they are limited to the size of meal they can eat, preferring tiny insects, seeds, and grass rather than large chunks of meat.
Read More: Should Geese Eat Bread?
Using pebbles greatly speeds up geese’s metabolism, which means that once they ingest their food, they can rapidly convert it into energy, or store it as fat for later use.
Are Geese Herbivores?
Most people consider geese as herbivores since geese get most of their energy requirements from grasses and aquatic plants, however, geese also consume small insects and bugs, as well as tiny fish so many people consider geese to be either omnivores, insectivores, or piscivores.
There are different definitions of herbivore, depending on who you ask, and depending on the definition you choose to adhere to, geese may or may not be herbivores.
According to the colloquial definition, as provided by Cambridge Dictionary, “Herbivores are animals that eat only plants”.
Under this definition, geese do not qualify as herbivores because they also eat bugs and small fish.
According to the more nuanced definition of herbivore used by zoologists, herbivores are animals that are specifically biologically adapted to eating plant materials and get most of their energy from plants(source).
Under this definition, geese definitely qualify as herbivores, since their short digestive tracts have evolved to allow them to eat plants but are too short to digest complex meat proteins.
What Types of Meat do Geese Eat?
Geese usually will not eat meat, but they do eat small fish and bugs, which may be considered meat depending on who you ask.
Geese have been known to eat small fish if they can catch them, although it’s not a regular part of their diet.
The more likely scenario involving fish is that geese will attack fish out of self-defense (or to protect their young) since some fish can eat goslings.
Read More: Do Geese Eat Fish?
Some people consider insects to be meat, while others don’t, since there are no clear-cut distinctions for what is considered meat.
Although geese are usually considered herbivores, they do eat insects regularly which some people may argue makes them omnivores.
Geese may eat more bugs before their breeding season when their bodies need more protein and calcium to create strong eggs.
3. Other Aquatic Invertebrates
Aside from small fish, geese may also eat small aquatic invertebrates like water spiders, water beetles, shrimps, and tadpoles.
Usually, geese will try to get their nutrition from plant-based material first. Geese are not natural predators and typically don’t hunt down other creatures.
Geese do not eat full-sized frogs, however, they may eat tadpoles if there’s a shortage of available plant material for them.
Can Geese Hunt?
Geese are prey animals and foragers, they can not hunt themselves, and are often the target of predators. In spite of this, they do have a limited ability to defend themselves and their young using their sharp beaks and wings.
According to the British Poultry Council, over 40 geese can survive quite happily on a single acre of rough ground, getting their nutrients from foraging for grasses, seeds, cereals, grains, young shoots, and seeds.
Animals that hunt geese include birds of prey, land-based predators like foxes, and even some fish.
Read More: What Animals Eat Geese?
To sum up, geese are mostly herbivores, but they sometimes eat small bugs, fish, and other aquatic invertebrates like tadpoles if there isn’t enough plant material available for them to forage on.
Geese usually don’t eat meat, since they lack the ability to break the meat down and extract nutrients from it.
Even though geese mostly eat plants, some people consider them insectivores because they eat insects, or piscivores because they sometimes eat very small fish.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.