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Domestic geese in a Norwegian pasture menace a photographer.

Domestic geese in a Norwegian pasture menace a photographer.

Photograph by Sindre Ellingsen, Alamy

Marc Silver

National Geographic

Published July 25, 2013

Cheese it, it's the geese!

Police in rural parts of China's Xinjiang Province are no longer turning to dogs to stand guard at police stations at night. They're using geese instead. And it works.

According to a recent report, a guy tried to break into a police station to take back a motorbike confiscated by the cops. The guard geese sounded the alarm, awakening the sleeping officers.

But ... really? Guard geese?

To gain insights into goose behavior, we spoke with Patrick Cumins, director of bird conservation at Audubon Connecticut, who has seen barnyard geese in action at a neighborhood park.

Would geese make good guards?

They have amazing hearing. And almost all birds have amazing eyesight. Not only do they see better at a distance than humans do, they can also see things up close [better than we do].

Our eyes have three different color sensors that combine to build the picture in our brain. Birds add a fourth—ultraviolet. They have a much wider range of wavelengths they can view. Things are going to look sharper. And they can pick out smaller things [as well as movement].

And I guess they're not shy when an intruder is sighted?

In terms of alerting people to activity, yeah, they're very vigilant. They're territorial. And certain species can be quite loud, especially the barnyard varieties.

Besides guarding a police station, are there any other things geese might guard?

I understand people in this country are using geese to guard their free-range chicken flocks.

So they're just really good watchdogs.

That's the beauty of it: It's instinct for them. They're territorial. They could fly off anywhere they want to, but they hang around their home. That's just the way a lot of geese act. Certain of them can be rather vigilant in defending their territory.

Would the same be true of swans?

I haven't heard of anybody using guard swans, but they can even be more aggressive than geese [when it comes to] defending their territory. There are stories of them knocking people out of kayaks, tangling with people and actually injuring them.

Is there any danger a guard goose would turn on a cop?

I don't think so. They seem to recognize you as part of the flock. If a new person came, the uniform might help the geese to acclimate [to that person]. People might all look the same [to a goose] if they're wearing uniforms.

Could a criminal distract a guard goose?

Dogs you can give some steak and they might be a little distracted. It's pretty hard to give geese something that's going to distract them enough where they wouldn't make noise. They might make more noise if you throw something yummy at them. And once they get going, they're hard to quiet down.

What would you feed them, anyway?

Geese are fairly easy to take care of. Feeding them is relatively inexpensive. There are specific [feed] mixes for geese, but they're happy eating cracked corn and grazing on grass.

Do geese have any other police-like traits?

The barnyard geese that live in our park are used to lots of people. They're not afraid of cars. They can be brazen. A major road goes right by [the park where the geese live]. Every once in a while all traffic stops as the geese walk across the road.

So a goose might also apply for a job as a crossing guard?

Yeah. You see one of the more dominant geese stop and stare down the cars while the others are crossing.

16 comments
Angga Kurniawan
Angga Kurniawan

Once me and my girlfriend went to a park where i saw this Swans and i couldn't resist myself to go near them, it was a flock of swans in them there was a large one probably their leader, when i went up close to them to take a picture it jumped on me and it was on top of me and i was so scared all of them surrounded me and started shouting to the top of their voice and trying to beak me my god the guard was close by came running with a stick and pushed them away.... http://goo.gl/t1Vgwr

Derviş Gürtekin
Derviş Gürtekin

They are absolutely good guards !  in my childhood we had a goose family living in our field and I know that they are even better comparing dog at field protection they are very attached to home and become very agressive when  strangers pass by our home, if strangers does not pay attention their warnig sound some times they bite :) . But beside this they are very lovely and faithful friends similar to dogs. 

Enrique Perez
Enrique Perez

I was hunting,  fired  a goose with my shotgun, it was flying in front of me,(from right to left), flew  about 40 yards,  then returned to the same spot where I fired(40 yards back), and drop dead, it had an ammunition in his head.   

 

Debarpan Banerjee
Debarpan Banerjee

Once me and my girlfriend went to a park where i saw this Swans and i couldn't resist myself to go near them, it was a flock of swans in them there was a large one probably their leader, when i went up close to them to take a picture it jumped on me and it was on top of me and i was so scared all of them surrounded me and started shouting to the top of their voice and trying to beak me my god the guard was close by came running with a stick and pushed them away....

E. Dixon
E. Dixon

Yeah, I wasn't surprised when i read that geese are being used as guard dogs. I remember the first time I was mauled by a goose...man, this article brings back memories.

Debbie S.
Debbie S.

Loved the story but the image shows ducks, Peking Ducks to be exact. You can see one adult in the top right (viewer's right) corner.

Adly Shadowbane
Adly Shadowbane

My parents already used geese to guard my home for more than 15 years :D

Rachel Bailey
Rachel Bailey

I loved this so much because at work I use CCTV to watch the geese. If they're just relaxing on the grass, Im thinking no intruders are about XD Not so crazy anymore, am I? Mwahaha. Totally showing this to my coworkers!

Clifford Nathan
Clifford Nathan

Geese guards were used since the days of my grandfather on his farm. And like the swans, they can get pretty aggressive. Their "bite" can leave you sore for days... and for whatever reasons, they love targetting the bums!! That makes sitting and sleeping a real pain!

But yes, they are better than most dogs (except working dogs) at guarding a compound. And they are very very loud. An angry male can be as loud as 130db easily.

Papa Foote
Papa Foote

FYI - it's already "known", but good to "remember"!

Jonathan Alderfer
Jonathan Alderfer

Good story, but the photo is off—it shows a flock of domestic ducks, not geese. Sorry to be a stickler.

Vin Hamilton
Vin Hamilton

The Roman legion used  them as guards! You cannot sneak up on them, every flock on the ground has at least 2 sentries on point looking away from the flock. As soon as anything is out of place they get very vocal.It's much easier to sneak up on a dog ( can get very close to them)  not at all possible with geese.Have hunted them many times, tried to get close in camo, netting and crawling, never got close!

Chris Thomas Wakefield
Chris Thomas Wakefield

We had 3 geese as pets at our home in the 1980'ies, one was male and he was the most aggressive, by far actually. People were afraid of them, even the mailman. But, I learned to control "Peter" (the females were named Jemima & Charlotte) in an usual way. When Peter got close enough, he could whack my legs pretty hard with his inner front leading bone or "elbow" of his wing, but his bite was much worse as geese have a kind of spike or sharp downward hook at the tip of their beak, so they can and will "nip" you as well. One day he got close and I just grabbed his upper beak in my hand and he was defenseless. I found I could hold him away (they don't weigh much) so he couldn't whack me with his powerful wings. This however didn't deter him in the least, once I let go, well he would continue his advance anyway. These geese were of the grey Toulouse variety. 

Marc Silver
Marc Silver

@Debbie Schermerhorn  

We can't duck responsibility for this mistake. Unfortunately, the caption that the photo agency had listed for the image we first posted (mis)identified the birds as geese. And alas, we didn't know our ducks from our geese. But now I hope we have our ducks, er, geese, all in a row!, 

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