Duck Vs Goose Vs Swan: What Are the Differences & Similarities?

Comparing the behavior and feeding requirements of duck, swan and geese.

Have you ever wondered how close swans, geese, and ducks are as relatives? According to Wikipedia, these waterfowl animals are among the members of the Anatidae family, containing 174 species in 43 genera. 

This biological family of birds is familiar to many people worldwide, especially ducks, geese, and swans. The family Anatidae has a worldwide distribution except for the continent of Antarctica. 

Table of Contents

Characteristics of Family Anatidae

For your better understanding, let’s discuss the family Anatidae.  

Although they may look and behave similarly, some traits differentiate the water birds from each other. Among the qualities they share- they adapt to swimming, diving in shallow waters, and floating on the water’s surface.  

These water birds are monogamous breeders who mate with the same partner in a breeding season. They are also herbivorous and take annual migrations.  

They have webbed feet for swimming and flat, broad bills (the jaw-like structure on their mouth) with fine serrations along the sides. Many of them are ground nesters. 

The chick’s body has a dense coating of fluffy and soft feathers known as down. Their adult counterparts have a smooth and velvety down underneath the feathers for protection against water and heat.

Those northern hemisphere species breed in lakes, tundra, and marshes in Siberia, Canada, and Alaska. They migrate to wintering areas in the southern hemisphere. 

Read on to learn more about the swans, ducks, and geese. 

Physical Features & Behavior 

Ducks 

Ducks are smaller in size with a robust body and have shorter wings and necks than their cousin, swans, and geese. The duck’s bill is flatter than the two water birds. They look stunning due to their color variation. The plumage coloration could be mixed colors, one or two colors. 

Their weight could reach up to 18 pounds and a height of 31 inches (80 cm). 

They thrive in seawater and freshwater as they are aquatic birds. They love to swim even in a small pond in your backyard.

Sometimes they are mistaken for coots, loons, gallinules, and grebes because they exhibit similar forms. There are over 100 duck species worldwide. 

They are flexible and can thrive as backyard animals in rural and urban areas. They also live in the wilderness or on farms. Some people cut the wings of their pet ducks so they cannot fly to their neighbor’s backyard. 

There are three categories of ducks: dabbling ducks, shoveler ducks, and diving ducks. 

  • Dabbling ducks tilt their bodies to stick up their tail during feeding near the surface. 
  • Shoveler ducks prey on algae and plankton using bills wider than a spoon with fine combs.  
  • Diving ducks disappear from the water surface when feeding and appear at a distance. Mandarin ducks, pintails, and mallards are examples of shoveler ducks. 

What Do We Call Male and Female Ducks?

Duck is a common name for several species of water birds in the family Anatidae. Ducks belong to the family Anatidae-order Anseriformes. A female duck is called a hen in ornithology, while the male duck is known as a drake. The young duck (down plumage) is a duckling or baby duck. When describing a group of ducks, call it a paddling of ducks. 

How Do Ducks Behave?

They behave differently depending on their species. Some may go in small groups; others go together in pairs. Some of them are territorial and introverts. Some species have welcoming characters. Ducks are known for their nasal sound, commonly known as quack. 

What is the Habitat of Ducks?

Ducks can survive in both seawater and fresh water. They are widely scattered worldwide except in the continent of Antarctica. 

What do Ducks Eat?

Both sea ducks and diving ducks feed under the water. The dabbling ducks feed on land or the water surface. They can eat various foods, such as small mollusks, worms, tiny amphibians, insects, fish, aquatic plants, and grasses. 

What is the Reproductive Behavior of Ducks?

The species of ducks may affect their reproductive behavior. Some species nest close to bodies of water while others nest from afar or in trees. The maximum number of eggs they can lay is 20. 

Either the mother or both parents may take care of the eggs. Duck egg colors can be in shades of gray, white, cream, and sometimes green. 

How Long Can a Duck Live?

Ducks can live five up to 10 years in their natural habitat. 

Swans 

Swans are aquatic birds belonging to the genus Cygnus and the Anserinae subfamily. 

They look stunning with their long necks and white feathers. Their eyes have black masks around them. Some of them have black heads and white or black bodies. 

Their weight could reach from 6 to 15 kilograms. Their height could reach up to one meter or more. 

The wingspan of adult swans could reach 2.7 up to 3 meters. Their robust beaks can be a combination of orange and black or simply orange or black. Although their sexual dimorphism is non-existent in swans, the female is slightly smaller than the male. That depends on the species. Some swan species are extinct. 

Today, there are seven species of swans, but one of these species-coscoroba swans, is no longer part of the so-called “true” swans. 

Swans live across the world except in Africa and Antarctica. However, there are vagrant swans that appear on the African continent. The northern swan species possess loud calls; thus, they earned whistler, whooper, and trumpeter names.  

What Do We Call Male and Female Swans?

The original term for a group of swans was sloth, now known as bevy. Describing a group of a swan flying together is called a wedge. A female swan is a pen, while the male is known as a cob. 

How Does a Swan Behave?

The behavior of swans depends on their species. Some species are expressive, but their sound consists of even growl, snort, or hiss. Black swans (Cygnus atratus) are gregarious non-migratory waterfowls. Mute swans (Cygnus olor) are territorial birds that may form in large colonies or stay in pairs. 

What is the Habitat of Swans?

Swans love to stay in freshwater like rivers, ponds, rivers, and lakes. They thrive well in a temperate climate.

What Do Ducks Eat?

Swans forage on land or in the water. They consume leaves, stems, and tubers of aquatic plants. They prefer to eat plant foods but also small amounts of seawater or freshwater animals. 

What is the Reproductive Behavior of Swans?

Swans build large nests compared to ducks and geese. The width of their nests could reach up to two meters. Sometimes the nests are in floating forms or near the banks. They also nest in large or small groups closer to each other. 

Generally, they have sex with the same pairs for the rest of their lives. They may choose a new mate if their original mate cannot produce offspring. Both parents take care of their cygnets and carry them on their backs. Sometimes the cob nests the eggs.

Some species lay different colors and numbers of eggs. The egg colors come in white, cream, or greenish. The average egg size of a mute swan measures 113by74mm and weighs 340 grams. They lay 4 to 7 eggs with an incubation period of 34 to 35 days.  

American black ducks have a clutch size of 9, while Muscovy ducks can lay from 8 to 16 eggs. Domestic ducks are sometimes neglectful of their eggs and ducklings. Duck owners use a broody hen or incubator to hatch the eggs. 

How long can a swan live?

Swans may live up to more than 10 years or even 20 years if they live in their natural habitat. 

Geese

Geese are heavier than ducks. They are among the largest aquatic birds that belong to the Anatidae family. The size of geese is midway between the swans and ducks. Their weight can reach up to more than 10 pounds. 

They measure up to 5.90 feet or 6 feet, including their wingspan. Their color depends on the species, but the most common coloration is mixed colors, brown, gray, and pure white.  

They have moderate flat bills that are commonly orange in color. Their necks are more extended than ducks but shorter than swan necks. 

Fifteen species of geese inhabit the subarctic and Arctic regions. They can live up to fifty years. Among these geese are snow geese and Canadian geese. 

Some researchers divide the geese into three genera: grey geese, black geese, and white geese. They also recognize 20 species of geese within the groups.

There are three popular species of geese Cackling Goose, Canada Goose, and Snow Goose. 

  • Canada goose is a famous duck species. They thrive primarily in Canada. They become a nuisance when they populate the area, invading parks and spreading their feces. 
  • Ironically, the name Snow Goose does not reflect their true colors. They are not always white. They change their color when the season changes-darker color during summer and whiter color during winter. Other species of snow geese exhibit black or dark blue feathers.  
  • Cackling Goose has similarities with Canada goose. However, they are slightly smaller than their Canadian geese cousins. They also have stubby and short bills. 
  • According to a study by Konrad Lorenz, Greylag Goose is a forebear of most domestic geese today. 

How Do We Call a Male and Female Goose?

Goose is a general term that most people use when calling these aquatic birds, but it refers to a female goose. A gander refers to a male goose. Gosling refers to young birds before fledging. When the group is on the ground, call it a gaggle (a gaggle of geese). When they are in a group flight, it is known as a skein, a wedge, or a team; when they fly in a group, call it a plump. 

How Do Geese Behave?

Geese are outgoing waterfowls; even if you raise them as pets, they still behave socially. They form a V shape when they fly in groups. They are territorial species and defend when an invasion happens in their territory. During a defensive mood, geese utter a honky sound. 

What is the Habitat of a Goose?

Geese can thrive in seawater and freshwater, ponds, rivers, and lakes. They love the temperate climate. They are ubiquitous in most parts of the world, excluding Antarctica. 

What Does a Goose Eat?

Geese are herbivores, and they feed on small fish and insects. They consume grains and green plants. A Canadian goose eats various types of grass. 

What is the Reproductive Behavior of Geese?

Geese are partners for life but look for another mate when the partner dies. They nest on the ground near their habitat. When they nest in group, they make sure they are not closer to each other. 

They lay an average of five or six white eggs that are primarily elliptical once a year. The female goose incubates the eggs while the male stays nearby. 

How Long Can a Goose Live?

A goose can live for 10 to 24 years in their natural habitat. 

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