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Why Are Geese So Aggressive?

Geese sometimes seem more aggressive to humans because they are so large and so visible, often making their homes in our parks and waterways. In spite of this, geese are prey animals, meaning they will only attack as a last resort, to defend themselves, their territory, their mates, or their nests.

Goose threat display

In this article we’ll explore the ins and outs of goose aggression and dispel the myth that geese are more aggressive than any other bird. We’ll also look at some situations when geese may act aggressively and why, and learn how to spot the signs of a goose’s threat display.

Why Are Geese So Aggressive?

Geese are no more aggressive than other birds, but they are more visible to us than other wildlife because they live closer to us and they have lost their fear of humans, meaning they are bolder in defending their territory.

In suburban areas, geese are protected from predators and usually protected by law too, meaning it’s illegal for humans to interfere with wild geese.

In spite of their reputation, serious injuries as a result of goose attacks are very rare. In most cases, geese are not dangerous to humans. They can bite and flap their wings, but that’s about it.

Read More: Can Geese Bite?

More serious injuries only occur when people fall as they try to flee an angry goose, or when a goose flies into someone and knocks them over. Geese can weigh up to 5kg (about the weight of a large watermelon) so they can knock over elderly or frail people.

Geese don’t simply attack for no reason. It is more that they are compelled to do so because they can perceive us as a threat. This is especially true during the breeding season and when they have eggs to protect.

When are Geese Aggressive

Geese may be driven to attack because of fear, stress, and even boredom. They will also defend their territory and tend to be more assertive when breeding season comes around and they are competing over mates.

Though it can seem to the untrained eye that geese are just naturally a bit on the aggressive side, they always have a reason for their behavior.

Let’s look at some of the situations when a goose may act aggressively…

1. Fight or Flight (Fear)

When a goose finds itself in a dangerous situation, an instinctual response will be triggered that is known as the fight or flight response.

This will essentially flood their nervous systems with all of the energy and aggression that they need to take decisive action and to either evade or deal with the situation they are in.

When humans accidentally stumble across their territory, geese make a decision to flee or to stay and fight. If there is a nest nearby, a goose will act very aggressively to defend their territory, even from humans who are much larger than them.

Read More: Where Do Geese Lay Their Eggs?

2. Territorial Aggression

Geese are more territorial than some other birds and do not like other geese, other animals, or humans encroaching on their territory.

Geese will honk loudly to advertise the boundaries of their territory to other geese, and may attack if anyone enters what they consider their territory.

Signs that you need to back off include the goose staring at you sideways, their neck fully extended, their wings flapping, or them hissing at you.

If there’s a nest nearby, it takes a lot to get a goose to leave. Even if you shout and wave your arms, some geese will defend their nests viciously.

3. Fighting over Mates

Geese can get pretty worked up during mating season. With females only choosing males that they think will be strong enough to protect them and their clutch of eggs, displays of aggression are common.

At this time of year, you will generally hear geese before you see them. Loud honking is an essential part of goose courting rituals, along with cackling and bobbing their heads in and out of the water.

A pair of Canada geese
Geese mate for life, so you can’t blame them for wanting to find the best partner!

Signs of Aggression in Geese (Threat Display)

Signs of aggression in geese include honking or hissing, flapping their wings, and extending their necks to make themselves look bigger. Once a goose attacks, they can charge on the ground, and use their beaks to bite and peck.

Although geese are prey animals, they are not insignificant birds. They have sharp beaks, powerful wings, and weigh enough that they can defend themselves adequately, even against larger animals.

As with most animals, geese have some tell-tale behaviors called a threat display that indicate they are preparing for an attack.

The idea of a threat display is to show any potential adversary that they are not to be messed with and usually involve the goose making themselves appear as large and dangerous as possible.

Here are some of the tell-tale signs of a goose’s threat display…

1. Hissing

Geese will make a loud, rasping hissing noise to ward off any perceived threats. This is similar to a cat hissing, and you won’t hear a goose hissing at any other point other than as a warning.

If you hear a goose hissing at you, you’re probably disturbing it and should move away.

Read More: Goose Sounds Explained (Hissing/Honking/Hinking/Cackling)

2. Honking

Geese honk for a whole range of reasons, including as a greeting, so this isn’t always a display of aggression.

In general, geese will hiss if they are feeling threatened, but they may honk, cackle, or shriek to try to scare off an intruder or to warn the rest of the flock.

If a wild goose is honking at you, it’s probably better to stay away from it. Geese at parks and ponds who are used to humans may honk because it prompts tourists to feed them bread.

Read More: Why You Should Never Feed Bread to Geese

3. Extending the Neck

To make themselves appear more menacing to any would-be predators, geese try to make themselves look as big as possible from the front.

To achieve this, they often extend their necks as much as possible, or move their heads and necks erratically.

4. Biting / Pecking

Geese don’t have teeth, but they have sharp cartilage in their beaks that can be used offensively to bite or peck at any adversary.

Though geese are generally pretty friendly and social birds (especially once they are used to being around humans) their bite is strong enough to cause bruising or even to pierce the skin.

5. Flapping their Wings

Geese flap their wings during a threat display for two reasons.

Firstly, geese have a wingspan of almost 6 feet. Extending their wings makes them appear much larger and much more dangerous to any would-be predator.

Secondly, geese are extremely muscular compared to other birds, due to their extraordinary migrations. Geese can flap their wings offensively, making loud noises and gusts of wind to deter predators.

6. Turning Their Head

When a goose wants to look directly at something (or someone), they don’t face forwards. Like many birds, geese have eyes on the sides of their heads and need to turn their heads away to get a closer look.

If you notice a goose turning their head to the side and staring at you with one eye, it may be a sign that they are worried about you or they feel threatened.

You can also notice this phenomenon with everyday birds you might see around your house like pigeons and crows.

A goose staring aggressively
Geese turn their heads to the side to focus on something with one eye

Are Geese Aggressive Towards Humans?

Geese can be aggressive towards humans, but they will not act aggressively unprovoked. Most geese aggression towards humans occurs when someone inadvertently wanders too close to a goose’s nesting spot, which they will defend aggressively.

Geese can be formidable adversaries too, as this man and his two dogs in Edmonton discovered when they accidentally stumbled through the territory of a Canada goose.

Conclusion

Geese only seem aggressive because they tend to live quite near to humans. In reality, geese are no more or less aggressive than any other bird.

Geese will become aggressive if their fight or flight response is triggered, if they are defending territory or their nesting spot, or if they are fighting over a mate.

Signs of goose aggression include eyeing you sideways, extending their neck, flapping their wings, and eventually they may bite or peck.

In general, geese are only aggressive toward us when they perceive us as a threat. As long as we don’t bother geese, they won’t bother us.

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