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Goose vs. swan: 4 key differences explained

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Swans are large, imposing birds known for their graceful appearance as they swim through large bodies of water. However, they share a striking resemblance to geese, which is why the two are often confused. But don't worry, despite their similarities, there are many key differences between them.

In this article, we'll discover everything you need to know about geese and swans, including where they live and what they eat. We will also discuss their appearance and behavior. But that's not all, there's so much more to learn about these fascinating animals! So join us as we explore all the differences between geese and swans.

Comparing swans and geese

goose to swan
Swans have a smaller range than geese, but a larger wingspan.

© AZ-Animals.com

Both swans and geese belong to the family Anatidae , which includes ducks, geese, and swans. The swan is the largest member, and the six extant species all belong to the genus Cygnus . True geese are divided into two distinct genera – Anser and Branta . There are 11 kinds of geese in gray goose and white goose. Branta has black geese, of which there are six extant species. There are two other genera of geese, but it is often debated whether these are geese or shelducks.

Although there are some differences between the different species of geese, there are some key differences that help distinguish them from swans. Check out the table below for some key differences.

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swan Goose
Place Europe, North America, Australia, parts of Asia worldwide
Habitat lakes, ponds, slow flowing rivers swamps, wetlands, lakes, ponds, streams
size Wingspan – up to 10 feet Weight – over 33 lbs Length – over 59 inches Wingspan – up to 6 feet Weight – up to 22 lbs Length – 30 to 43 inches
color Usually all white (occasionally black) white, black, gray, brown
neck Longer and thinner, visible "S" shaped curve Shorter and thicker, straight with no curves
Behavior Aggressive, not very social – prefers to be around spouses and younger people living in groups
sexual maturity 4 to 5 years 2 to 3 years
incubation period 35 to 41 days 28 to 35 days
diet Aquatic plants, small fish, worms Grasses, roots, leaves, bulbs, grains, berries, small insects
predator wolf, fox, raccoon wolf, bear, eagle, fox, raccoon
life 20 – 30 years old 10 – 12 years old

4 Key Differences Between Goose and Swan

white swan on the lake
Swans are large birds with distinctive curved necks

©Sergej Razvodovskij/Shutterstock.com

The main difference between geese and swans is size, appearance, and behavior. Swans are larger than most geese but have shorter legs. They also have longer, curved necks and are usually always white. Also, swans like to spend most of their time in the water, while geese are just as happy on land.

Let us discuss all these differences in more detail below.

Goose vs Swan: Size

One of the main differences between geese and swans is their body size. Generally, swans are longer and heavier than geese, and have a greater wingspan. Swans can have a wingspan of up to 10 feet, while geese typically have a wingspan of between 3 and 4 feet. Swans typically measure over 59 inches in length and weigh over 33 pounds. Geese generally weigh no more than 22 pounds. Incredibly, although swans are generally all-around large birds, geese actually tend to have longer legs than them. However, while the general rule of thumb is that swans are bigger than geese, there are always exceptions. Exceptions in this case come from Canada, Tundra and Berwick geese, which are generally larger than swans.

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Goose vs. Swan: Habitat

Although swans and geese share many of the same habitats—ponds, lakes, and rivers being the most common—they actually behave quite differently there. This is because swans spend more time on the water than geese. Despite how elegant swans are when they swim, they're actually pretty clumsy when they're on land. This is also why they spend more time in the water eating and browsing for food. Their main food source is aquatic plants, although they also sometimes eat small fish and worms.

Although geese can swim, they are not so clumsy on land and are just as comfortable in water. Compared to swans, they spend much longer time out of the water in search of food. While geese do eat aquatic plants, they also eat a variety of grasses, leaves, shoots, grains, berries, and even small insects.

Geese and swans: the neck

Easily the most obvious difference between swans and geese is the shape of their necks. Swans are known for their elegant appearance and signature "S" shaped neck. Their necks are long and thin which adds to this look. However, when we look at geese, it becomes apparent that they lack an "S" shape curve. Additionally, their necks are shorter, straighter, and thicker.

Geese and Swans: Behavior

most romantic animal
Geese are gregarious birds and usually live in flocks

©iStock.com/yujie chen

Swans and geese also exhibit different behaviors. Geese are very social birds and tend to live in flocks, even during breeding season. However, swans prefer to keep company only with their mates and young. They also have a more aggressive nature than geese, which helps them defend themselves from predators.

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The ages at which the two birds reach sexual maturity are also different, as geese mate much earlier than swans. While most geese start breeding around 2 or 3 years old, swans do not mate much later until 4 or 5 years old, and in some cases as late as 7 years old.


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about the author

For many years, I have been writing professionally, with an emphasis on animals and wildlife. I love spending time outdoors, and when I'm not writing I'll be found on a farm surrounded by horses, dogs, sheep and pigs.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Do geese and swans mate for life?

While fully monogamous behavior is uncommon in wild animals, both swans and geese tend to mate for life. Swans, like most geese, always raise their young as mates. A common misconception about lifelong mating is that if one mate dies, the other never mates again, or in some cases starves to death. However, this is not the case, as it seems as if one of the pair dies, the other finds a new mate.

Are swans and geese under threat?

Different species of geese and swans have been threatened several times over the years. Today, none of the six swan species is endangered. However, some geese – such as the Hawaiian geese – are almost threatened. Nonetheless, geese are more common and more abundant than swans. The number of geese is estimated to be over 10 million, while the number of swans is estimated to be no more than 2 million.

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