Reading Time: 5 minutes
Most of us can easily spot the differences physically between quail, a chicken, a turkey, and a duck. Question some people and they may have a more difficult time distinguishing the difference between geese vs. ducks. But all of these birds actually contrast in more ways than in just their aesthetic traits. Though they are popular members of backyard flocks, they each have their own personality, behaviors, nesting habits, and care requirements. Let’s specifically explore these variations in geese vs. ducks and chickens.
Personality and Behavioral Traits
Chickens owners tend to agree that each bird varies in personality. Some enjoy human companionship, others don’t. Some chickens are more assertive and some more docile. What each chicken seems to have in common, however, is their curious nature and innate need to operate in a hierarchy or pecking order. Chickens enjoy socializing with their flockmates and learn through imitation and observing the practices of other chickens.
Just as with chickens, ducks possess their own individual temperaments. Most ducks prefer to stay with their flockmates as an act of survival and not wander off. They tend to be docile but skittish. Flocks function around a pecking order where the lead hen or drake takes access to water and feed before others. Ducks generally are very aware and protective of other flock members and young.
Though ducks and geese are both members of the waterfowl family, they differ greatly in their behavior. Common goose behavior tends to be naturally territorial and more assertive. It is this natural inclination to protect that gives the goose its status as a watchdog or livestock guardian. Geese do operate in a pecking order, however they are just as happy to pair off in groups of two.
Nesting and Sleep Habits
Most chickens will lay eggs wherever they feel is private and secure, though it is not entirely unusual to find chicken eggs laid on the coop floor. It is for the benefit and convenience of the farmer to construct nest boxes where some chicken keepers may employ the use of false eggs to encourage chickens to lay. These boxes are used mainly for the chicken to nest in; they sleep on roosts off the ground, away from soiled bedding and possible predators.
Ducks do not fly vertically to lay their eggs in nesting boxes. They will use a nesting box if it’s placed at a low level in proximity to the ground. However, they much prefer to follow their natural instinct to form nests of bedding and to lay their eggs on the floor. Some ducks simply lay wherever they happen to be at the moment and avoid nest building altogether. Though some hens prefer privacy, many are just as happy to lay their eggs in a public location. Additionally, ducks enjoy sleeping in their nests until they are let out of the coop for the day or directly on the floor.
Geese are very similar to ducks in their nesting preferences; they create large nests of bedding usually under a shelter. One unique feature with geese vs. ducks is their instinct to accumulate a clutch of several eggs before the desire to sit on them sets in. It is possible for a goose to wait until a dozen or so eggs reside in the nest, covering them with bedding between laying, before choosing to incubate them. Just as with chickens, though, female geese prefer a private setting that is quiet and secure, away from the rest of the flock. It is also worth noting that geese only breed seasonally — eggs are only produced in early spring for about two to three months. Geese generally do not sleep on their nests unless they are actively sitting and warming their eggs. They will sleep standing on one leg if they are actively guarding their flock or sleep by laying on the ground if another goose is actively “on watch duty.”
Chickens possess the natural instinct to forage and scratch at the ground in search of seeds, insects, or grit. They use their toenails or short claws to disturb the top layer of soil and simultaneously use their beaks to peck while snacking. Roosters (and some females) develop spurs, a sharp talon-like protrusion at the back of the foot, as they age. This spur aids in fighting and protection of the flock.
Ducks do have toes but they are connected by webbing which works as a swimming aid. Their webbed feet are accessorized by short toenails which do not scratch the ground or help the bird in foraging. Instead the duck uses its bill to scoop the ground or streambed in search of insects.
The foot of a goose is almost the exact same as that of a duck, with more prominent webbing. Their large webbed toes are capped with short toenails. The legs of the goose are slightly taller in proportion to their bodies than that of a duck. Geese do not use their feet to aid in foraging; they use their serrated beaks to tear at the tips of grass blades.
We briefly touched on the housing differences in chickens, and geese vs. ducks, while discussing their sleep habits. However, it should be noted that there are many points to consider when constructing a proper shelter for a backyard flock.
Chicken coops typically are lined with bedding, contain nest boxes, and have roosting bars raised for sleeping above the floor. An adjacent run is often added which provides a safe outdoor space free from access to predators. Chickens lack the ability to see in the dark so keepers often lock them indoors at night, safely sleeping on their roosts. Ventilation and a solid roof to keep the birds dry is essential.
Ducks also require bedding on the ground of their coop, house, or barn stall. They do appreciate a nesting box on the ground, though it is by no means required as ducks both lay and sleep on the ground. Should ducks not have the opportunity to free range, they should also be provided with an outdoor run space safe from predators. They are waterfowl so they do require an area to bathe and swim. Ducks also rely on clearing their nostrils in order to breathe. Waterers should be deep enough for the birds to dip their bills and blow their nostrils into water. Ventilation is necessary and a solid roof is ideal, though many ducks prefer to sleep outdoors even in wet and cold conditions.
Just as with ducks, geese do require deep water buckets to allow them to dip their nostrils or nares into water for clearing. Geese deter small predators such as hawks and raccoons so there is more leniency with their housing but ideally, they are fully enclosed at night away from coyote and fox, in a structure which is deep enough to keep the wind out and with a solid roof to keep the birds dry if they choose. A-frame houses are a popular choice when raising geese to encourage nesting habits. Whether raising geese for meat, eggs, or guardianship, many farmers allow their geese to free range by day since they deter small predators and can sound their alarms, alerting the farmer to help, for larger ones. Enclosed runs are less popular for geese.
There are many other ways in which chickens, geese, vs. ducks differ; in their diet, exercise, feathering, egg coloring, and more. What differences do you take note of?
Originally published in the October/November 2018 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.