Many hunters don't
realize that communication among geese is a combination of sound,
body posture and action. The meaning of a call may be more related
to body posture and action than to the sound of the call. Because it
is difficult to duplicate body posture and action you need to
understand the call in order to correctly recreate it. According to
Dr. Cooper there are two primary factors that determine the meaning
of a goose call: frequency and intensity.
Frequency (how often the goose calls) is related to the action of
the goose, the faster the motion of the goose the faster the call.
When a goose is calling on the ground to keep the family in contact
it's calling is slow. When a goose is flying the calling is directly
related to the downbeat of the wing stroke, which is when the goose
contracts it's chest muscles and exhales. When a goose is flying in
formation its call is a slow, measured honk. When a goose is pumping
its wings rapidly during takeoff or landing it's calling is fast.
The intensity (loudness) of the call is related to the mood of the
goose. The more excited, irritated or nervous a goose becomes the
louder the calling gets. If a goose is attacking another goose it's
calling is louder than if it is just threatening. Mating, attacking,
landing and taking off are all intense times for geese, and their
calling is louder than normal at these times.
There is another factor that affects the pitch of the call and the
length of the individual notes of the call; the relative size of the
goose. Generally speaking, the pitch of the call, and length of the
individual notes of the call, are related to the size of the goose;
the larger the goose, the deeper the call and the shorter the
individual notes. The call of a Giant Canada is a long, low pitched
herr-onk; the call of a small Cackling goose is short, high pitched
Depending on how they are used, goose calls fall into six different
categories: Agonistic, Contact, Intent, Mating, Parental/Neonatal
and Social Status. Dr. Cooper refers to the contact calls as the
"Here I am, where are you?" calls. While they are in the air geese
call to each other to help keep the family, and especially the
juveniles, together. When the family flies it forms a line or a "V"
and the birds call to each other to keep in contact. When the family
joins other families in a subflock the family usually flies in a
straight line with the gander at the front of the family.
The calling of a goose in the air is directly related to the speed
of the downbeat of the wing stroke, which is when the goose
contracts it's chest muscles and exhales. While a canada goose is
flying in formation the tempo of its call is a slow herr-onk...herr-onk...herr-onk.
When a goose begins to land, its wing beat gets faster as it
backpedals, and the calling is a short, loud, fast clucking sound
(cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck) that slows after the birds have landed
and regrouped. I have also heard geese make a quiet, drawn out
herr-onk when gliding in to land.
While geese are feeding they perform a contact call hunters refer to
as the feeding gabble, "singing" as it is referred to by wildlife
biologists. The call is a deep guttural herr-onk-onk-onk-onk. It
occurs while the goose's head is down and it may not be able to see
very far. This call lets geese know where the other geese are, and
helps to space the geese out while they are feeding. When young
goslings use this call it is a high pitched peep-peep-peep.
The Agonistic (as in agonizing) or Threat Calls of geese are intense
and therefore loud, starting out slow and becoming faster. Both the
male and the female often perform these calls at the same time, with
the male's calls usually lower in pitch than the female's. The call
is fast and may contain two different notes; herr-onk onk, herr-onk
onk, or cluck-uck, cluck-uck. There are three different levels of
aggression in geese, each level using the same basic call but
defined by different body posture and actions.
Geese on the ground or water use the first level of aggression as
they are approached by other flying geese. The geese on the ground
or water extend their neck and head upward, with the mouth open and
tongue out, and use a loud herr-onk onk. If the geese in the air do
not land in the area occupied by other geese there is usually no
In the second level of aggression the goose calls with the neck
extended skyward, but the head is bent toward the ground, and the
head is pumped up and down while the goose calls. The action is
directed toward a subdominant goose on the ground or water, and the
subdominant often moves away from the dominant.
In the highest level of aggression the neck is extended forward
along the ground or water and the head is tilted slightly upward
while the goose calls. If the subdominant goose does not move it is
usually attacked, either by being bitten or slapped with a wing.
During all three levels of aggression the mouth is open and the
tongue is out.
When a predator or human approaches too close to a goose, especially
when there are eggs or young present, the goose may warn the
intruder with a hiss while the mouth is open and the tongue is out.
The Preflight call is usually performed by the gander while
signalling its intention to take to the air to the rest of the
family. The call starts out as a slow honk while the bird's chin is
lifted, its bill points skyward and it shakes its head from side to
side and flashes its white cheek patches as a visual signal to the
other geese. The calling becomes faster as the goose prepares to
take flight, and continues as the goose rises into the air, the
calling in time with the wing stroke. Once the birds are in the air
the calling slows with the wing stroke and may stop altogether.
The gander uses the Triumph or Mating Call in the spring when it has
claimed a territory. The call is a loud series of honks performed
with the head erect. This excited call starts out fast then slows
down as the mood of the goose returns to normal. During the call the
neck and head of the goose are extended upward.
There has been little research on parental and neonatal calls of
geese, but Dr. Cooper says that both parents respond to the soft
peep-peep-peep of the young goslings shortly after they hatch. I
have heard adults perform a soft, nasal unk while they were with the
young, or as the family fed. I suspect that both these calls are a
form of contact call used between parents and young.
Social Status Call
The Social Status or Greeting Call occurs between two family members
after they have been separated, usually when the female returns to
the nest, or after a male has driven off a predator or another goose
that has invaded its territory. The call starts out as a loud, slow
honk that becomes faster and quieter as the goose runs out of air.
During the call the neck and head of the goose are extended upward.
Geese do not have an alarm call, but they do have an alarm signal.
During alarm the head of a goose goes up into the sentry position so
that it can see better, and it becomes silent. As other geese become
alarmed by the action of the first goose, or spot the cause of
danger, they raise their heads in the sentry position and also
The biggest misconception in goose calling is that geese on the
ground call to geese in the air to come down to feed. Based on his
years of research Dr. Cooper says geese do not call to other geese
to come down and feed. Therefore, you cannot call to geese in the
air to come down and feed. This doesn't mean that calling will not
attract geese, but it is not what the calling of the geese on the
ground is meant to do.
When geese are in a large flock on land there is a lot of squabbling
among families, accompanied by loud threatening honks and attacks.
At the same time the geese that are feeding are performing the
gabble. Family members that have been separated are also calling
back and forth to each other, using the "Here I am. Where Are You?"
in an effort to get back together. All these sounds together make up
the sounds of a feeding flock of geese. The more geese there are,
the more noise they make. There is not one single call being
performed, it is a combination of different calls.
Geese on the ground or water do not pay much attention to geese in
the air until it appears that the flying flock may land in the area
occupied by the resting flock. The resting or feeding geese may then
begin to use the double cluck threat call, telling the approaching
geese to stay away and not land near them. The aggressive,
threatening double cluck is what the flying geese expect to hear,
because it is what they hear from other flocks every time they land.
In fact, Dr. Cooper says that the louder, more aggressive the
calling is, the more the geese in the air want to land. But,
remember, when you are performing the double cluck, you are not
asking the geese to come and feed with you; you are actually telling
them to go away or they will be attacked. Your calling should be
loud and aggressive, not friendly, pleading or begging.
While they are landing the geese are often backpedaling to slow
their descent, and they call rapidly in a "fast cluck;" cluck,
cluck, cluck, cluck. Many call manufacturers and professional
callers refer to this as the "hut, hut." When approaching geese hear
the fast cluck of the landing call, along with the double cluck
threat call, it signals that geese are landing and are being
threatened by geese already on the ground, which means this must be
a good place to eat. In this sense these calls are like security
Large flocks in the air do not call to locate other flocks, they are
only calling to other family members within the flock to stay in
contact with each other. But, there are times when geese in the air
(usually juveniles) have been separated from the flock. When this
happens the geese use a long, drawn out, pleading honk in an effort
to locate their family; cluck-aaah, cluck-aaah. This is simply
another form of the "Here I am. Where are you?" and is often
referred to by hunters as the "comeback call".
The best way to understand geese and goose calling is to know what
each call sounds like and what it means. Find someplace to watch and
listen to geese. Watch the action of the geese as they use the call
and the reaction of the other geese. Many hunters listen but they
don't observe. If you don't understand what the geese are doing you
may misinterpret the call. Pay close attention to the action of the
geese while they call and you can learn. An excellent reference is
the out of print book (that can be found in larger libraries)
Handbook Of Waterfowl Behavior, by Dr. Paul Johnsgard.
When you are calling geese remember that the geese on the ground or
water do not call to the geese in the air to join them. They pay
little attention to the geese in the air until it looks as if the
geese in the air are going to land within the space occupied by the
feeding flock. When the feeding flock does call they are actually
threatening the flying flock, letting them know that if they land in
or near the feeding flock and its food source they will be attacked.
Some hunters refer to this threatening call as the Double Cluck
Call. The Double Cluck is call should be loud and aggressive,
getting faster as the flying flock approaches. Meanwhile the geese
in the air are performing the fast "Here I am, where are you?"
Contact Call as they prepare to land. These two calls together are
what flying geese are accustomed to hearing as they approach a
feeding flock. It may be that the louder, more aggravated the
calling is, the more the geese in the air want to land!
When large numbers of geese are feeding there is a lot of squabbling
over the best food places. Some geese perform the threat call, some
the contact call and others the feeding gabble. There are the deep
sounds of the males, the higher sounds of the females, and the
broken voices of the young. All these sounds occur together and make
up the sound of a feeding flock of geese. If you are trying to
simulate the sound of a feeding flock of geese you need to use all
the sounds; the loud aggressive threat call, the softer contact call
and the still softer but deeper feeding gabble. Once the geese get
close you can begin using the landing call the "fast cluck" as I
call it. This is the sound of landing geese and may tell the flying
flock that other geese are landing and give them a sense of
When you are calling, think of both the mood and action of the goose
that would be making the call, then imitate it. Remember you are not
calling to the geese, but trying to simulate the sound of feeding
and flying geese under specific conditions. The best way to
understand geese, and goose calling, is to know what each call
sounds like and what it means. The best way to do this is to find
someplace where you can watch and listen to geese. Watch the action
of the geese as they call, and watch the reaction of the other geese
to the calling. Many hunters listen but they don't observe. If you
don't know what the geese are doing, or don't understand, then you
may misinterpret the call. Pay close attention to the action of the
geese while they call and you can learn.
When you are hunting geese pay close attention to the pitch and the
length of the individual notes of the calls of the geese. Different
species and even subspecies of geese make different sounds. If your
call is too low or too high, tune it, or use a different call. While
all geese may respond to the sounds of most goose calls, there are
times when a particular species or subspecies may not respond to the
call you are using. If the geese you are hunting use a slow quick
call, and you are blowing a long, drawn out call; they may not
respond. When they don't respond, listen to the geese, and then
adjust the tempo, pitch, and length of the notes of your calling to
match the calling of the geese.
T.R. Michels is a well-known researcher/animal behaviorist,
outdoor writer and speaker, who has been studying game animals for
several years. He is the author of the Whitetail, Elk, Turkey, and
Duck & Goose Addict's Manuals. His latest products are the 2002
Revised Edition of the Whitetail Addict's Manual, the 2002 Revised
Edition of the Elk Addict's Manual; and the 2002 Revised Edition of
the Duck & Goose Addict's Manuals. For a catalog of booksand other
hunting products contact: T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors,
PO Box 284, Wanamingo, MN 55983, USA. Phone: 507-824-3296. E-mail: