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Learn about ducks and geese

Most of us have heard about the French delicacy called foie gras. However, do we really know what goes on behind the production of this world renowned dish? The truth is that to create this, most foie gras comes from ducks and geese which are confined in extremely tight places for several weeks and have their throats pumped forcefully into them many times during the day. This practice of force feeding (or "gavage" as people call it in France) is the cause of the fat livers in ducks and geese, which are deformed due to the grotesque swelling. 


 Whereas foie gras is considered the most luxurious dish by many, its production has shrunk significantly in recent years due to the policies adopted by many countries as more experts and consumers become aware of the brutal effects this production has on ducks and geese.

Let's get scientific about ducks and geese!

a) General characteristics

Both ducks and geese are waterfowl, with their feathers waterproof by nature and insulating, which helps raise their tolerance to colder temperatures. These two species get along well together and both are social creatures who do not like isolation. On average, a typical domestic duck can live from 10-15 years while a goose can live a few years longer, from 15-20 years. 

Geese have a tendency to be territorial. They can fence off intruders and tend to be extra aggressive during breeding seasons. One of the difference between geese and ducks is that geeese molt once a year and mate for life while ducks molt twice a year. Molting can last from 6 to 8 weeks. Ducks and geese spend a large portion of their days foraging and a lot of time bath and preen to keep their plumage in good conditions. 

Domestic ducks has origins from the mallard, which is the most well-known duck species in the Northern Hemisphere that has been domesticated for over 2000 years. Mallards can fly fast, swim well, walk and run with ease.  Like the domestic ducks, muscovies can also fly. swim and walk well. But they tend to be active at dawn or dusk, around the time they forage for food. The other time during the day they roost in trees near water. They originate in Central and South America. Muscovies' natural habitat is streams, ponds and marshes. 

Mulard is the term used to call ducks used for foie gras. Mulards are hybrids created by crossing a female domestic duck of a breed like the Pekin duck with a male Muscovy duck. Only males are used to produce foie gras. Mulards inherit a combination of traits from both species in terms of anatomy and behaviors. 

Most geese kept for force feeding are the Oie du Gers and the Oie Grise du Sud Ouest. The greylag goose is the ancestor of most farmed geese. The greylag geese spend the bulk of their time in water but otherwise they move and forage extensively on land. They are also very social creatures, except when they are nesting. 

b) Senses

Both ducks and geese rely on sights more than other senses. They are capable of seeing 2.5-3 times further and detecting a broader spectrum of  than humans can. Although they have a panoramic vision due to the fact that their eyes are located on either sides of their heads, they have lowered depth perception. To make up for this, they tend to move their heads from side to side quickly to make observation of an object from two angles in quick succession to create a 3D picture. 


The second most essentail sense for ducks and geese is hearing. Their ears are located behind and below their eyes, with the openings protected by soft feathers, which help muffle the wind when they fly. They depend on their hearing to maintain contact with others and locate food.  The sense of touch helps ducks and geese distinguish among temperature, pressure and texture and it is especially essential to them while foraging. In contrast, they have fewer nerves on their feet, rendering these less sensitive to cold, allowing them to stand on snow or ice for longer.

Ducks and geese have less developed sense of taste compared to mammals and other animals due to the smaller number of taste buds that they have. However, they still have some capacity to differentiate between flavors. The least developed sense for ducks and geese is believed to be smelling although they can still detect smells to certain degrees. 

c) Migration

Greylags are capable of migrating long distances, from their breeding bases in the north all the way to their southern winter areas. Some mallard populations migrate as their summer grounds become frozen during the winter months, while some are sedentary. As regards the muscovy ducks, they are a tropical species that does not engage in migratory behaviors. 

Advocates of foie gras production may reason that the act of force feeding is similar to what wildfowl do before migrating naturally, which is increasing their food intake to accumulate fat to fuel their long journeys. However, experts pointed out that even in cases where migrating birds store fat in the liver, their organs never grow by more than twice its initial volume. However, force feeding can cause the liver to enlarge to 6-10 times the regular size.

d) Behaviors 

Ducks are social and curious creatures. They prefer spending time in large groups (or paddles) to search for food, swim, preen their feathers and keep their nests tidy together. They are also communicative and form lasting bonds with their friends and families. 

Geese are loyal birds who have complex social interactions with one another in large groups while finding food and collecting twigs to reinforce their nests. Geese rotate their turns to stand guard to keep an eye over the others within these large groups. They form a V shape that reduces wind resistance and permits the geese to travel a much further distance than they normally could as a pair or alone. 

Geese form lifelong bonds with their partners, and are very protective of each other as well as their offspring. Like humans, geese may put themselves at great risk to remain by the side of a sick or injured loved one. Geese as parents create and maintain beautiful nests, with the females laying eggs once every year. Geese tend to stay loyal to the same nest for several years if they can, strengthening and protecting them over the years. 

e) Intelligence

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Fun facts about ducks and geese




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