‘Til death do us part’ is often uttered in marriage ceremonies as a promise of commitment and togetherness, but in the animal kingdom, one animal puts all other animals to shame with their undying loyalty to their mates.
Over the last few years, there have been a few viral videos of inseparable geese couples, but do they really mate for life, or is it all just media exaggeration?
Most geese are monogamous and mate for life. Geese pair bond when they are two or three years old and stay with their mate for the rest of their lives, building a nest and raising offspring each year during breeding season. If one of the pair dies, the other will go through a period of mourning and often refuses to take another mate.
In this article, we’ll learn why geese mate for life and what exactly that means, just how strong the bond between a pair of geese can be, and why their loyalty to one another is more of a strategic decision than true love.
Why Do Geese Mate For Life?
1. To Give Their Goslings The Best Chance
Mating for life provides an evolutionary advantage for geese. Young goslings are vulnerable to many predators and are unable to fend for themselves, so having two adults to look after them is the best way to make sure they grow to adulthood.
Read More: Natural Predators of Geese and Goslings
In a 2001 study published in the Behavioral Ecology journal, this effect was explained by a phenomenon known as the ‘Mate Familiarity Effect’, which basically means that as a pair stays together and have new offspring each year, they hone their parenting process.
The same study found that the success rate of goslings reaching adulthood increased year-on-year in pair-bonded goose pairs.
2. Paired Geese Live Longer
In a 2012 study by researchers from Nevada University, it was found that when a female goose lost her male partner, her mortality rate rose by 16%.
Researchers postulated that this was due to a pair being better able to defend their nests and themselves than a single goose could alone.
Do All Geese Mate for Life?
Social monogamy is common across all species of geese. What this means is that geese will pick a single partner and spend their time with that partner and raise their offspring with them together.
Male and female geese share the parenting duties, which is quite rare in the animal kingdom so this type of social monogamy has a clear evolutionary advantage for the goslings.
Although all geese are socially monogamous, modern DNA analysis has taught us that in approximately 30% of geese species, both the males and females may take part in what scientists call “extra-pair copulation”, but what a layman may call “cheating”.
Even when the brood doesn’t biologically belong to the gander (male goose), the goose pair raise the goslings as their own. Geese are very social when it comes to parenting and may even share parenting duties with other pairs and even other species of waterfowl.
What Happens When A Goose’s Mate Dies?
When a goose loses their mate, they enter a period of mourning that can last for up to two years. Many geese don’t pair with another mate at all after losing their first mate.
The most famous example of a mourning goose in recent years was the story of Juliet, a Canada Goose who sadly lost her mate in Atlanta, GA when he was hit by a car.
The poor goose sat at the spot where her mate died for months on end, even refusing to go with her flock when they migrated for the winter.
Eventually, Juliet was rescued and taken to a shelter where she was introduced to other geese to help her recover.
Do Geese Stay In The Same Nest For Life?
If possible, geese will re-use their nest from last year, however, this is not always realistic. Geese nesting grounds are often found in the high arctic, where snow and high wind destroy the temporary nests from the year before.
Every year, geese work together with their mate to build a nest for themselves out of twigs, bark, moss, feathers, and other insulating materials.
In total, geese sit on their nests for roughly 30 days while their eggs incubate, and stay at the nesting site for roughly four months depending on the species.
Read More: When Do Goose Eggs Hatch?
Do Geese Live With Their Families?
Geese form strong family units, but only for the first one or two years. After one year, the male goslings are expelled from the family and instead join a group of solo males to look for a mate.
Female goslings leave the family when they find a mate of their own, usually at around two years.
Adult paired geese live together for life, with a rotating group of goslings that they raise each year.
Outside of the nest, adult geese will look after other goslings from other families, as well as adopt any orphaned goslings they find. Both male and female geese watch over their young.
Read More: What Does It Mean When A Goose Is Alone?
To sum up, most geese do mate for life, but that’s not the whole story.
Most geese are socially monogamous, which means they only care for the offspring of their lifetime mates, however, up to 30% of geese species are known to breed with birds outside their pair.
Although this seems disloyal or to us, it’s not appropriate for us to map human emotions onto wild animals. It’s a biological advantage for the geese and helps maintain genetic diversity.
Even with goslings potentially from another father, geese remain socially pair-bonded and raise their offspring as a pair. This gives their defenseless goslings a much better chance of reaching adulthood.
When a goose loses their mate, there usually follows a lengthy mourning period where the remaining partner may isolate themselves and refuse to find a new mate.
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.