At my local farm, the pet geese (Betty and Bert) bed down for the night precisely at six pm in a small corner stall of the horse barn. They’ll make their way across the busy riding arena at 5:45, regardless of whether or not students are trying to take a lesson.
But what about other flocks of farm geese, with no cozy horse stable to share? Where do they sleep? And what about geese in the wild?
Wild geese tend to sleep on the water and typically only sleep on land when they feel safe from predators. Domestic geese, however, will sleep just about anywhere and will often return to the same sleeping spot night after night.
There is actually some interesting stuff I found out about the sleeping habits of geese. If you’ve ever wanted to find out where our large feathered friends spend their nights, keep reading. You might be surprised to find out not only where geese go to sleep but also how they sleep!
Forget the Nest
If you’re picturing an idyllic scene of a goose bedding down in his cozy, round nest – forget it. Birds don’t actually sleep in nests. Can you believe it?
Birds that make nests (and there are plenty that don’t even bother) use them to contain and raise their young. They’re not designed for sleeping at all.
Sure, a mother bird may sleep while warming her eggs, but if there are no eggs – they’re not spending any time in their nests. (source)
Other species of birds roost on tree branches, inside some dense brush, or they may even spend their night’s hanging upside down by their toes.
But a goose is too big for most of that. So, if a goose isn’t returning to his nest for the night, then where does he sleep?
Wild on the Water
Wild geese are too big and too fat to comfortably roost in a tree-like most other birds. Instead, they’ll sleep right on the open water, comfortably floating along in a big group.
Wild birds are mostly concerned with avoiding predators while they sleep. For smaller birds that roost in trees, these predators include cats, foxes, hawks, or owls.
So, vulnerable birds usually find a dense bush in which to spend the night – off the ground and away from cats, but out of sight from nighttime prowling owls.
Geese are large, and not particularly worried about cats. Eagles and hawks also sleep at night, and a crocodile would set off vibrations in the water and wake up a sleeping goose.
Wild geese will also roost on small islands, away from the open water, but safe from larger land predators (such as coyotes or wolves).
Geese Can Sleep With One Eye Open
But, how could a goose know a crocodile was approaching if he’s asleep? Because most species of birds can literally sleep with one eye open.
Geese and other birds utilize something called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep (or USWS). This means that they can shut down one half of their brain to catch a few zzz’s, while the other half stays awake and alert for signs of predators.
They can adjust how deeply they sleep based on how wide they open or close their eyes. So, if you see a sleeping bird with one eye half-open, he’s not awake. He’s just watching you with half of his brain! (source)
Dolphins and other sea mammals utilize USWS so they don’t sink while they’re sleeping. However, birds are the only animals who can control it.
Sleeping in Mid-Air!
Geese also use USWS to navigate while sleeping – in mid-air. A flock of geese flying in a V formation will use USWS to follow the lead bird while catching some rest. The lead bird will then rotate positions, and another will take its place.
Utilizing USWS also keeps them safe on the open water, too. Geese roosting on the outer edges of a floating flock will use USWS to watch for predators, and the geese roosting in the middle will fall into a night of full, deeper sleep, knowing that they’re protected.
What About Domesticated Geese?
If your farm doesn’t have a large body of open water for your feathered friends to sleep in, don’t worry. Most domesticated geese don’t even sleep on the open water anyway.
In fact, pet geese generally need a secure enclosure to protect them from stray dogs or other common farm predators like badgers and foxes.
For most geese, a sturdy garden shed will do the trick. Most domesticated geese will not put themselves to bed like Betty and Bert, but they can be usually be herded into safer nighttime accommodations.
If you have a sturdy fenced enclosure instead of a shed, geese can and do sleep just fine outside in the grass. They don’t require shelter in order to sleep in the way that smaller birds do. But, they still require shelter from predators, especially if they’re being confined to an enclosure as a pet.
Where do geese sleep? Pretty much anywhere they want to!
Because geese are a large and somewhat formidable bird species, they can pretty much sleep anywhere. However, both wild and domesticated geese utilize their “one eye open” technique to watch for predators and travel while getting some rest at the same time.
If you’re considering adding some geese to your menagerie, make sure they have adequate protection from prowling predators – even if they’d rather fall asleep in the middle of your lawn. Even the most stubborn pet geese can be herded into their nighttime enclosure with the right persuasive techniques.
Frequently Asked Questions
While we are on the subject of geese and their habits, here are some frequently asked questions.
Do geese fly at night? Geese will often fly at night for a variety of different reasons including staying cool, avoiding predatory birds and less turbulence present in cool air vs. warm.
Do geese sleep in the water? Geese will sleep on the water. Typically they do so in groups and take turns being the sentinel.
Do geese get cold? Geese can get cold however their down feathers provide them with a great deal of insulation. In fact, it is such a good insulator that is why goose down is included in many premium bed comforters.
Do geese need a coop? Most farm geese will appreciate having a regular place to rest but they don’t need a coop specifically. They will often find a cozy place to bed down such as a horse’s stall, hay room or even under a covered porch! Having some kind of enclosure for them will help to avoid night time predators.
mark w. young
Saturday 17th of April 2021
I have a male Canadian goose on the lake, and he appears to be sleeping with his head and neck outstretched in the water? I this normal, I have never seen it before? Usually they sleep with head on their backs??
Wednesday 17th of February 2021
Thank you. Have been terrified for LouLou with exposed tongue/deformed beak. She is spending this Texas freeze snap in the water but I fear she’s getting tired. She could get out but can’t deal with snow. Am throwing pellets to keep her strength up. She has a submerged rock where she can rest a little bit. She adopted us one day, so we are not naturals at this.