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Waterfowl Articles

Goose Vocalizations

by T.R. Michels


Depending on how they are used, goose calls fall into six different categories: Contact, Intent, Agonistic, Mating, Social Status, and Parental/Neonatal. Dr. Cooper refers to the contact calls as the "Here I am, where are you?" calls. While they are in the air, geese call to each other to help keep the family, and especially the juveniles, together. When the family flies it forms a line or a "V" and the birds call to each other to keep in contact. When the family joins other families in a subflock the family usually flies in a straight line with the gander at the front of the family.


The calling of a goose in the air is directly related to the speed of the downbeat of the wing stroke, which is when the goose contracts it's chest muscles and exhales. While a goose is flying in formation the tempo of its call is a slow herr-onk...herr-onk...herr-onk. When a goose begins to land, its wing beat gets faster as it backpedals, and the calling is a short, loud, fast clucking sound (cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck) that slows after the birds have landed and regrouped. I have also heard geese make a quiet, drawn out herr-onk when gliding in to land.

While geese are feeding they perform a contact call hunters refer to as the feeding gabble, "singing" as it is referred to by wildlife biologists. The call is a deep guttural herr-onk-onk-onk-onk. It occurs while the goose's head is down and it may not be able to see very far. This call lets geese know where the other geese are, and helps to space the geese out while they are feeding. When young goslings use this call it is a high pitched peep-peep-peep.

Intent Calls
The Preflight call is usually performed by the gander while signaling its intention to take to the air to the rest of the family. The call starts out as a slow honk while the bird's chin is lifted, its bill points skyward and it shakes its head from side to side and flashes its white cheek patches as a visual signal to the other geese. The calling becomes faster as the goose prepares to take flight, and continues as the goose rises into the air, the calling in time with the wing stroke. Once the birds are in the air the calling slows with the wing stroke and may stop altogether.

Agonistic Calls
Agonistic (as in agonizing) or Threat Calls are intense, and therefore loud, starting out slow and becoming faster. They are often performed by both the male and the female at the same time, with the male's calls usually lower in pitch than the female's. The call is fast and may contain two different notes; herr-onk onk, herr-onk onk, or cluck-uck, cluck-uck. There are three different levels of aggression in geese, each level using the same basic call but defined by different body posture and actions.

The first level of aggression is used by geese on the ground or water as they are approached by other flying geese. The geese on the ground or water extend their neck and head upward, with the mouth open and tongue out, and use a loud herr-onk onk. If the geese in the air do not land in the area occupied by other geese there is usually no further action.

In the second level of aggression the goose calls with the neck extended skyward, but the head is bent toward the ground, and the head is pumped up and down while the goose calls. The action is directed toward a subdominant goose on the ground or water, and the subdominant often moves away from the dominant.

In the highest level of aggression the neck is extended forward along the ground or water and the head is tilted slightly upward while the goose calls. If the subdominant goose does not move it is usually attacked, either by being bitten or slapped with a wing. During all three levels of aggression the mouth is open and the tongue is out.

When a predator or human approaches too close to a goose, especially when eggs or young are present, the goose may warn the intruder with a Hiss while the mouth is open and the tongue is out.

Mating Call
The Mating or Triumph Call is used by the gander in the spring when it has claimed a territory. The call is a loud series of honks performed with the head erect. This excited call starts out fast then slows down as the mood of the goose returns to normal. During the call the neck and head of the goose are extended upward.

Social Status Call
The Social Status or Greeting call occurs between two family members after they have been separated, usually when the female returns to the nest, or after a male has driven off a predator or another goose that has invaded its territory. The call starts out as a loud, slow honk that becomes faster and quieter as the goose runs out of air. During the call the neck and head of the goose are extended upward.

Parental/Neonatal Calls
There has been little research on Parental and Neonatal calls of geese, but Dr. Jim Cooper says that both parents respond to the soft peep-peep-peep of the young goslings shortly after they hatch. I have heard adults perform a soft, nasal onk while they were with the young, or as the family fed. I suspect that both these calls are a form of contact call used between parents and young.

Alarm Signal
Geese do not have an alarm call, but they do have an alarm signal. During alarm the head of a goose goes up into the sentry position so that it can see better, and it becomes silent. As other geese become alarmed by the action of the first goose, or spot the cause of danger, they raise their heads in the sentry position and also become silent.



About the Author:

T. R. Michels is nationally recognized for his action-packed, informative seminars based on his experience as a wildlife researcher and professional guide.

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