Saturday, 13 December 2014

Bird Behaviour: Three Geese - One Nest

Nesting Geese: Three to a nest and the little one said...

embden and toulous geese
three geese one nest
This is rarely seen goose behavour - here I document a goosy threesome, with the beta female laying eggs while the alpha female and male supervise.  Some of the pictures aren't great but well worth viewing. You rarely get a chance to witness an episode like this. I was lucky enough to be there just as the grey goose, the beta female was ready to lay her eggs much to the disgust of the other two. Once the eggs were laid though the alpha female was left triumphantly in charge of all their eggs. 
Near Bingley in West Yorkshire domestic geese have gone wild and now form a flock of about 60 birds. On a stretch of the Leeds to Liverpool canal, there are at least ten (10) goose nests within sight of the footpath on the opposite bank of the canal. This offers a unique opportunity for observing bird behaviour during the breeding season. This is a photo-journal of one of the two goose nests that have been observed as being used by two females and their mate.
This nest is nestled under an ancient hawthorn tree, the nest hollowed out amid the debris of an old dry-stone wall. The first nester was a pure white embden goose mated to a large white embden. The third in the party has some toulous goose blood so for convenience she is referred to as the grey goose. Officially they are ALL grey or gray geese but it is easier to describe them as white or grey for convenience. She is obviously the beta female in the threesome.
The white female laid her eggs around the 17th March. Unfortunately the nest was well enough hidden that the number of eggs could not be counted. Then, on the 29th March, the grey female laid eggs in the same nest. It remains to be seen if all the eggs hatch and when. Goose eggs incubate for 30-34 days.
This is the story of a sunny afternoon spent watching the behaviour of feral geese. Over about half an hour, the story unfolded.

The three geese involved had been seen together before which suggests they were mated. It is not unusual for geese to form threesomes which I have documented elsewhere. In this case there are two females and one male. As the act of mating was not witnessed it is impossible to say for certain the male had impregnated both females, but given that geese do not tolerate other geese near them at this time of year, except for mates, it is suggestive that he had. This was confirmed when the grey goose laid eggs in the same nest where the white female had been sitting on eggs since mid March.
nesting geese
The grey female plucked down from her undercarriage to further line the nest.
Source: Photography by AnnMackieMiller copyright 2011
It was evident the grey female goose was ready to lay eggs when she displayed nesting behavour: she plucked grass and twigs and threw them over her shoulder to build up the nest. When the white geese moved off toward the canal to feed, she sat on the nest and pulled the nesting material around herself. The white pair came back and in this instance got her off the nest. Lots of noisy interaction later, the white pair moved off up the field.
Now the grey goose pulled down from her undercarriage to further line the nest and started laying.
Spooked by a flock of crows coming down toward the nest, the white pair gave alarm calls and came running back down the field to the nest to find the grey goose installed.
With much haggling the large male stood on the back of the grey female, I think trying to get her off. It certainly was not mating with her for three reasons: a) they normally mate on water, b) mating is usually over in seconds, while he stayed on top of her for almost 10 minutes, c) after mating male geese cannot help displaying and crowing about it to everything within two miles.
The white female tried to hook the eggs under herself where she had settled on one edge of the nest. At this point the grey goose got up and literally dropped her last egg. When she moved off the white female took back central position and spend some time gathering all the eggs together underneath her.
nesting geese
The white geese decided to go off up the field leaving the grey goose at the nest.
Source: Photography by AnnMackieMiller copyright 2011

nesting geese
When a flock of crows headed towards the nest, the white pair came tearing down the field to it.

nesting geese
This time the grey goose wasn't moving, she had started to lay eggs.

A word about the wildlife photographs

Some of the photographs show camera shake as they were taken at some distance and hand held. Camera used, Nikon D90 with Nikon 70mm-300mm lens.
All the photographs used on this and other webpages are low resolution to prevent theft. High resolution electronic copies are available for a small fee for use on websites and blogs, NOT on products, these are reserved for my own use.
Contact me for more information.


Grey goose exhibits nesting behaviour, seen when females are about to lay eggs.

She takes advantage of the white geese feeding in the canal to make her takeover bid.

The white female comes back from the canal and persuades the grey female to move

The grey female continues to bring nesting material to the nest while the white female is sitting on her eggs.

The white male tries to move the grey one by standing on her back.

She was NOT moving

The white female tries to get to the eggs.

The male gives up while the white females tries to get on.

The white female and grey female side by side. The grey goose is still laying eggs.

The white female trying to collect the eggs under herself.

Male goose standing guard

The grey goose drops her last egg just on the edge of the nest.

The grey goose moves off while the white goose gathers the eggs together.

The one that almost got away but didn't

Triumphant the alpha female is left in charge.

Come back and visit and meet the only gosling that successfully hatched from this nest. 


  1. Very interesting read! It seemed quite a drama who was going to win over the nest! Only one egg successfully hatched, is that a usual ratio for geese?

  2. thanks for visiting Jasmine - no it isn't all that usual, they generally have more than that

  3. Now I's been documented that geese will deliberately addle or even smash other geese's eggs when they feel crowded, so was the low success rate the result of rivalry between the co-mothers?

  4. Yes Priscilla I've seen that too but I watched that nest and the eggs remained just never hatched I wonder if most of them were unfertilized.
    thanks for visiting.

  5. I have that going on here 2nd year they have been back a white goose and two Canadian geese