About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Why geese honk in flight

I've watched Canada Geese landing on water for years and was aware of considerable honking as they glided to a pond or lake. But, I hadn't noticed until tonight how intense the communication was when small groups of two and three were making their approach. It almost appeared that the lead goose was being heckled by those behind. It looked as if the ones behind were highly critical of the leader as "he?" or "she?" Was leading them in. Even after they landed the leader was chased around on the ground for a while with highly indignant sounds and actions. Is it common for geese to criticize or help advise the leader as he makes his final approach?
Flocks or “gaggles” of Canada Geese are usually made up of multiple families that come together to look out for each other. After nesting and before spring they can be very vocal. Some honks are alerts to danger, to food, or to predators. Some honks are for identification and to announce they are in the area. Other times younger birds may just be practicing their honking.

During flights, the extended family group consisting of several generations, keep track of one another by making a series of short honks. They form a V shape to reduce the air resistance for the birds behind. It is common on longer flights for geese to rotate from the front to the back when they get tired.

When they approach the feeding area, the honking picks up and it is probably less about criticism and more about working together to alert the others that they are landing or completed the landing safely. Or you may be observing territorial displays. As spring approaches, pairs break away from flocks and begin defending territories.

Debates about nesting areas may involve honking, head pumping, hissing, and vibrating neck feathers. Things quiet down once the female selects her nesting site and begins construction and incubation while her mate guards her and the nest. 

Related Articles:
- Have you ever heard of a wedge of geese? http://goo.gl/2oDPB
- Goose Gaffe? http://goo.gl/sDx9H
- Strange deer and goose pairing http://goo.gl/im8Pj
- Why geese sleep in the water http://goo.gl/X9gV9
- Why do geese fly in a V formation? http://goo.gl/h1icv

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