Geese have a strange schedule, splitting their time between their overwinter locations and their summer nesting grounds, often traveling thousands of miles to get between the two. Because geese migrate, they don’t need to hibernate!
Geese don’t usually hibernate, simply because they don’t need to. Animals hibernate when there is a low supply of food, but most geese mitigate this problem by flying south for the winter.
In this article, we’ll look at hibernation in geese, particularly at the great lengths that geese go to so that they don’t have to hibernate.
Do Geese Hibernate During Winter?
Although many animals who live in arctic conditions will hibernate over winter, geese don’t need to, since they migrate instead to avoid the worst of the cold.
Since geese spend their winters in warmer southern climates, there is enough food for them to sustain themselves, even during winter when there is less food available.
To help reduce the required nutrients, geese can intentionally lower their heart rates and body temperatures, as well as slowing down their metabolism which reduces the amount of energy they need to find from food over the winter, allowing them to thrive with a little food.
Read More: Can Geese Eat Meat?
What Do Geese Do During Winter Instead of Hibernating?
Instead of hibernating during winter, geese fly south to warmer climates where there is still enough food for them to sustain themselves through the winter.
Read More: What Should You Feed Geese and Ducks?
Instead of full hibernation, geese can slow down their metabolism, lower their heart rate, and decrease their body temperatures over winter. This state is called Torpor, and is like a sort of pseudo-hibernation, or a state of lethargy.
The main difference between hibernation and torpor is a temporary state of reduced energy requirements, where the animal is still fully aware of its surroundings, and hibernation is a prolonged period of dormancy.
Why Don’t Geese Hibernate?
Geese don’t hibernate because they migrate instead.
Geese remove themselves from the potential situation where there is inadequate food for them to sustain themselves, which is when other animals may hibernate.
No breeds of geese hibernate. It’s difficult for any birds to hibernate because they don’t have large enough fat supplies to maintain their high energy requirements.
How Long Do Geese Head South For?
Most species of geese fly south for approximately 8 months of the year, leaving their winter nesting grounds in September or October before the cold winter arrives, and returning between April and June the following year for breeding.
Although geese can cover an incredible 1500 miles in a single 24 hour period, it’s much more usual for the migration to take a number of weeks, since the geese stop off at known feeding grounds for weeks at a time on their way back to their nesting grounds.
Read More: How High Can Geese Fly?
As an example, the Brent goose leaves the Canadian Arctic every fall to spend winter in the United Kingdom, over 1800 miles away.
On the return leg, the Brent goose stops off in Iceland for several weeks, where the birds can rest and eat, building up their strength again for the rest of the journey.
It’s a similar story for Arctic geese from Siberia, who stop off for weeks at a time in the Baltic countries in their millions as they prepare for the final leg of their migration back to their arctic breeding grounds.
Unfortunately for the geese, the Baltic nations are keen hunters and the annual migration is highly anticipated by Estonian hunters..
Do Any Waterfowl Hibernate?
No species of waterfowl (including geese) are known to hibernate.
Similarly to geese, ducks, swans, and other waterfowl spend the winter months conserving their energy and finding as much food as possible while it’s available to them to last them through any frozen periods. (Also known as entering a state of Torpor)
Read More: Can Geese be Considered Mammals?
Can Other Birds Enter Torpor?
The ability of a goose to slow its heart rate, breathing, body temperature, and metabolism is known as torpor, but it’s not only geese who have this pseudo-hibernation ability.
Many bird species can enter a state of torpor, including geese, ducks, and swans.
Where geese can slow their metabolism down to help them with food scarcity in particularly cold winters, there are some species that can enter this pseudo-hibernation state for much longer periods.
The best example is the common poorwill, which can enter this state for several weeks at a time.
Read Next: Do Ducks Hibernate?
To sum up, geese don’t hibernate, they migrate.
Instead of struggling through food scarcity and dangerous cold, geese make their iconic migration south every winter to spend the coldest months in a warmer climate where food is more readily available during winter, negating any need for them to hibernate.
Geese spend roughly eight months in their warmer overwinter spots and around four months in their winter nesting grounds. (Though this varies considerably depending on the climate)
Although geese don’t fully hibernate, they do have an ability common in many birds called Torpor. Torpor is a pseudo-hibernation state that geese can enter during particularly cold weather involving a slowing of their heart rate, lowering of their body temperature, and slowing of their metabolism while remaining fully conscious.
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.