16 types of Geese & Swans in the United States! (2023)

16 types of Geese & Swans in the United States! (2023)


Geese and swans are some of the largest birds in the United States!

Assuming you’re near a large body of water, finding at least a few species shouldn’t be too hard. They are fairly common in most lakes, estuaries, wetlands, lagoons, bays, or anywhere else they can find food. Most types of geese and swans are also regularly spotted in farm fields during the winter months, eating leftover crops.  

Today, you will learn about 16 types of swans and geese that live in the United States!

For each species, I provide some fun facts and how to identify them by sight OR sound. Make sure to pay attention to the range maps to see which of these birds live near you!


#1. Canada Goose

  • Large goose with a long black neck and a distinctive white cheek patch.
  • Brown body with a pale white chest and underparts.
  • Black feet and legs.

Canada Geese are extremely common in the United States.

I’m sure you probably recognize these birds, as they are very comfortable living around people and human development. Look for them wherever there are grasses or grains to eat, such as lawns, parks, farm fields, and golf courses.

Canada Goose Range Map

In fact, these geese are so abundant that many people consider them pests for the amount of waste they produce! If you have a manicured lawn maintained to the water’s edge, you have an open invitation for these birds to visit.  

The Canada Goose is also easy to identify while flying overhead. If you see a flock of large birds in a V-formation, it’s most likely them. Flying this way helps conserve energy, and different birds take turns leading the way.

Canada Geese make a wide variety of loud honks and cackles. They have even hissed at me for accidentally approaching a nest too closely. Listen below!

If you’re interested, you may be able to see a Canada Goose at my bird-feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my feeders 24/7. ???? Look for them on the ground eating corn.


#2. Snow Goose

  •  Most of these birds are all white with black tail feathers. But some individuals display a “blue morph,” whose heads are still white but bodies are sooty gray.
  • Pink legs. 
  • Pink bill, which has a black patch on each side.

During the breeding season, Snow Geese spend their time in the continent’s northernmost areas, away from human civilization. You will only see this goose in the United States when they migrate south in fall and winter. 

Snow Goose Range Map

Look for these birds in large fields and bodies of water. It’s usually not hard to find them if they are around, as they are almost always seen in huge flocks accompanied by a lot of honking!  

In fact, one of the most impressive things you will watch today is the video below, which shows an ENORMOUS flock of Snow Geese. It’s hard to fathom how many birds are traveling together!

As you can probably hear from the video above, Snow Geese are one of the noisiest waterfowl you will encounter in the United States. Their nasally, one-syllable honk can be heard at any time of day or night, at any time of the year!  

And lastly, here is a fun fact that my kids loved to learn. Snow Geese are prolific at pooping, and they defecate between 6 – 15 times per hour. ????  


#3. Ross’s Goose

  • Small, stocky goose that is completely white, except for black wingtips. They are slightly larger than a Mallard duck.
  • A stubby red-orange bill that has a gray base.
  • Legs and feet are also red-orange.

Ross’s Goose looks very similar to the Snow Goose, except they are smaller and have a shorter neck and stubbier bill. It’s common for these two species to travel together in the same large flocks!  

Ross’s Goose Range Map

Populations of Ross’s Goose have been increasing due to climate change. As their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic are warming, the snow cover has been reduced, which increases plant growth. More plants mean more food for Ross’s Goose, which leads to more babies being born and surviving!

During migration and the non-breeding season, these geese can be seen in the United States in marshes, lakes, and farm fields, where they enjoy eating leftover crops.

If you see a flock of white geese flying overhead, listen for Ross’s Goose, which gives a distinctive “keekkeek keek” call. It will sound higher in pitch than a Snow Goose.

 


#4. Cackling Goose

At first glance, the Cackling Goose looks identical to a Canada Goose! In fact, the plumage is almost exactly the same, and these two birds used to be classified as the same species.  

But upon further investigation, you will find that the Cackling Goose is smaller, has a stubbier bill, shorter necks (most apparent when in flight), and a more rounded head.

Cackling Goose Range Map

Cackling Geese can be found breeding in small lakes and marshes in the arctic tundra. During migration and in winter, they are most commonly seen in agricultural fields during the day. At night, they return to large lakes or wetlands to roost.  

Another way that this species can be identified from Canada Geese is by sound. Listen for the higher-pitched honking of the Cackling Goose.

 


#5. Greater White-fronted Goose

  • Mostly brown, with black barring on their belly and a white undertail.
  • Pink-orange bill with a white patch of feathers at the base.
  • Orange legs.

These birds breed in the arctic tundra but then migrate south for winter. Look for these geese in the United States in large flocks in wetlands, lakes, and farm fields.

Greater White-fronted Goose Range Map

Greater White-fronted Geese have INCREDIBLY strong family bonds. Mated pairs migrate with each other and stay together for many years. Their offspring even stick around for longer than most other species, and it’s not unusual to see the young with their parents through the next breeding season.  

Their flight call is relatively easy to identify. Listen for a two to three-syllable sound that resembles laughing.

 


#6. Brant

  • Black chest, head, and bill. Mostly brown body with white on the sides and underneath.
  • A small and compact goose with a short bill.
  • Distinctive white patch on the side of the neck.

Like many other goose species, Brants nest in the Arctic in wetlands. Once the weather turns cold, they migrate south.

These geese can be seen in the United States in coastal areas, where they can find aquatic vegetation to eat in sheltered bays, estuaries, and lagoons. Brants are strictly vegetarian, with eelgrass and large algae playing a large part of their diet.  

Brant Range Map

While they fly overhead, listen for a “crrronk” call, which sounds guttural and is similar to a Sandhill Crane.

 


#7. Tundra Swan

  • Large, entirely white bird with a long white neck.
  • Entirely black bill.
  • To identify correctly, look for a yellow patch on their black facial skin below the eye.
  • Smaller than Trumpeter Swans.

You will not see Tundra Swans in the United States during summer, as they spend the breeding season in the remote Arctic. Look for them in winter and migration, where they are visitors to many large bodies of water. They also visit farm fields in large flocks, looking for food.  

Tundra Swans form long-term, dedicated relationships. Typically, by the time they are 2 or 3, they have found a partner. Once that happens, these two birds will breed, feed, roost, and travel together year-round.  

The most common sound these birds make is a “hoo-ho-hoo” bugle, with the second syllable being emphasized. (Listen below)

 

Another typical sound associated with Tundra Swans is the whistling of their wings. In fact, Lewis and Clark initially called them “whistling swans” when they first encountered them, and many people still use this name today.  


#8. Trumpeter Swan

  • A giant, white bird with a long neck.
  • Black bill and black facial skin at the base of the bill. It lacks the yellow that appears on the Tundra Swan.
  • Black legs.

Trumpeter Swans are the largest bird native to the United States!

They have a wingspan of almost 6 feet (1.8 m) and weigh around 25 pounds (11.3 kg), which is about twice the amount of a Tundra Swan. They are so big that about 100 yards of open water is needed for them to get enough speed to take off!  

Trumpeter Swans were once endangered due to overhunting, but luckily, their population has recovered and is increasing.

Unlike Tundra Swans, this species stays in the United States in summer to nest and breed. Look for them near ponds, lakes, rivers, and marshes, and the farther from people, the better!  

These large birds typically nest on an existing structure surrounded by water, such as beaver dams, muskrat dens, small islands, floating masses of vegetation, and artificial platforms. Trumpeter Swans are very sensitive when breeding and will commonly abandon their nest sites and babies due to human disturbance.  

Deep, loud trumpets can be heard when they are alarmed or defending their territory, which is two syllables with the second one emphasized (“oh-OH“).

 


#9. Mute Swan

  • A huge white bird with a long white neck.
  • Look for the distinctive orange bill that features a black base and knob.

Mute Swans are among the most elegant and beautiful birds you will see in the water. They are also enormous and are one of the heaviest birds that can fly!

But did you know that Mute Swans are NOT native to the United States?

Due to their beauty, Mute Swans were imported from Europe and released in parks, large estates, and zoos. Unfortunately, these individuals escaped and have established an invasive wild population.

Don’t be fooled by their appearance; these swans can be aggressive and regularly attack kayakers and other people who get too close to their nest. They also displace native ecosystems due to their voracious appetite, which requires up to 8 pounds (3.6 kg) of aquatic vegetation daily!

Despite their name, these swans are not mute!

While relatively quiet, they make a hoarse trumpet sound when defending their territory. And if they are threatened, expect to hear various barks, hisses, and snorts.


#10. Egyptian Goose

  • Despite being a duck, the Egyptian Goose is 24-29 inches (63 to 73 cm) tall and more goose-like in its build.
  • The Egyptian goose is colorful and widely valued as an ornamental duck. Its body is a pale golden-beige overall, with bright pink legs and brown circles around each eye.
  • A brown patch on its pale chest helps to differentiate this species from similar ducks.

Egyptian Geese are not native to the United States!

These water birds are native to Central and Southern Africa. They were imported to the United States since at least 1904. Naturalized breeding colonies can be found in California, Florida, and Texas.

Male and female Egyptian Geese look very similar. Females are often smaller than males, but otherwise, there is not a lot of sexual dimorphism. 

However, it becomes much easier to tell the difference when Egyptian Geese make sounds! Female Egyptian Geese make a loud cackling quack. Males, on the other hand, have a quieter, continuous, vibrating call. Check out the male at the rear and the female at the front of this clip to hear the difference.

Egyptian Geese are homebodies and tend to live beside one body of water for their whole lives! They will return to the stream, pond, or lake in their home range every night, so long as predation is low and there is plenty of food and water.


#11. Swan Goose

  • Swan Geese are one of the largest geese species. They stand, on average, 3 feet tall (91.4cm). Males are usually larger than females.
  • Swan Geese have a beautiful range of brown shades on their bodies. Their head and neck are chocolate brown on the upper side and pale beige underneath, giving a stripe effect.
  • The legs of Swan Geese are vibrantly orange, while their beaks are deep black. 

Swan Geese are a vulnerable species in their native range of Asia. However, they have been domesticated and introduced around the globe for centuries. Two popular domesticated geese breeds, the Chinese Goose and the African Goose, are direct descendants of Swan Geese. They look quite different from their ancestors, with an upright posture and knobbly protrusions above their beaks.

In the United States, you are much more likely to encounter Swan, Chinese, or African Geese in a domesticated collection than in the wild. However, it is possible to spot escaped or released individuals flocking together with other species near waterways!

I found it interesting that Swan Geese live close to lakes, ponds, or wetlands but rarely swim!


#12. Greylag Goose

  • Greylag Geese are a soft, warm gray-brown.
  • Their feathers are rimmed with narrow white edges, which gives them a delicate barred pattern over their wings, chest, and sides. 
  • The legs of Greylag Geese are pink, while their bills are bright orange.

Greylag Geese are NOT native to the United States!

These birds are found naturally across Europe and Asia, where they are very common and have a huge natural range.

Interestingly, Greylag Geese gave rise to almost all common domesticated goose breeds.

In the United States, domesticated Greylag Geese can commonly be seen on farms, estates, and in zoological collections. Occasionally, escaped birds may flourish as feral populations.

Greylag Geese are very social animals. They will almost always be found in flocks, ranging from a few birds to thousands of animals. When flying, flocks adopt the classic V-shape flight formation. Play the video to see them in action!


#13. Black Swan

  • Black Swans have an extremely striking appearance. Adults have black feathers all over, except for the tips of the wings, which are largely concealed when not in flight. 
  • In stark contrast, their bills are deep red, with a white band encircling near the tip. 

Black Swans originally came from Australia. Over time, they have been introduced around the globe as an ornamental bird. When they swim, they often hold their neck and wings high above the water in a majestic, aggressive display.

If you see a Black Swan in the United States, it will probably be under human care at a park or other animal collection. However, feral birds have been reported living in Florida, California, and North Carolina. There is no evidence of their successful breeding and settlement.  


#14. Pink-footed Goose

  • As their name suggests, they have pink legs and feet. They also have pink patches near the tip of their bills, which are otherwise black.
  • The overall coloration of pink-footed geese is a fairly unremarkable soft brown. Their chest area is a light beige, while their heads and wings are a darker chocolate. 

Pink-footed Geese favor the northern hemisphere and cool climates and rarely stray from these areas. But there have been increasing reports of vagrant geese spotted in the United States!

Sightings are increasing notably along the east coast of North America. Look out for them tagging along with flocks of Canada geese.

Breeding is fairly challenging for Pink-footed Geese! Because of the threat of mammalian predators such as Arctic foxes, pink-footed geese nest on cliff faces beside the sea or in gorges.


#15. Barnacle Goose

  • Small, compact goose. Mostly white head.
  • A short, stubby bill that is black. Legs are black, too.

Due to their unique coloration, Barnacle Geese are easy to spot in the eastern United States!

But Barnacle Geese are not normal visitors, as they spend most of their time in Arctic regions and other northern areas.

Luckily, their sightings in the eastern United States have been on the rise. Look for them mixed into flocks of Canada Geese during winter. ????

So, do Barnacle Geese eat barnacles?

The answer is a resounding NO. They got their names long ago when people in medieval times thought these birds hatched out of barnacles!


#16. Emperor Goose

  • A small, stocky goose with a dark body.
  • Short pink bill and a white head with a black throat.
  • Orange legs.

The Emperor Goose is a small goose mostly found on the coasts of Alaska. But they are also known to show up randomly in California, Oregon, and Washington.

Look for them in freshwater pools, inland lakes, and coastal lagoons. These birds have been nicknamed the “beach goose” because of their affinity for coastal environments.  

Emperor Goose Range Map

These geese fly lower than other species and are often seen flying just off the ground. If you ever see them in flight, listen for their loud, musical “kla-ha, kla-ha, kla-ha” call, which sounds more nasally than other geese species.


Do you want to learn about MORE birds in the United States?

Check out these ID Guides. Each one is specific to birds found here!


Which of these swans and geese have you seen in the United States?

  Leave a comment below!

The range maps below were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!



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