Advanced Goose Calling
Advanced Goose Calling
By T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors
The two most important aspects of goose calling are tempo (frequency) and volume (intensity). The tempo of a call is related to the action of the goose; the faster the movement 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 gander is chasing an intruding goose it’s calling is fast. 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 volume 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 the calling is louder than normal at these times. The calls of Geese can be divided into six different categories: Contact, Intent, Agonistic, Mating, Social Status, and Parental/Neonatal.
The contact calls are referred to by goose researcher Dr. Jim Cooper as the “Here I am, where are you?” calls. While they are in the air geese call to each other to 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, usually with the gander in the lead. When the family joins other families in a subflock, they usually fly in a straight line with the dominant gander of the flock at the front of each family.
The calling of a goose in the air is directly related to the downbeat of the wing stroke, which is when the goose contracts its chest muscles and exhales. While a 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. They may start to gabble after they land. I have also heard geese make a quiet, drawn out herr-onk when gliding in to land.
When geese feed they use a contact call hunters refer to as the feeding gabble, it is referred to as “singing” by wildlife biologists. The call is a deep guttural herr-onk-onk-onk-onk-onk. It occurs while the goose’s head is down and it may not be able to see. This call lets geese know where the other geese are and helps to keep the geese spread out while feeding. When young goslings use this call it is a soft peep, peep, peep.
The preflight call is usually performed by the male while signaling its intention to take to the air to the rest of the family. The call starts out as a loud slow honk while the bird’s chin is lifted and it shakes its head as a visual signal to the other birds. 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. Although the fast clucking of landing geese (mentioned above) is not used by geese to signal an intention to land, it sounds much like the preflight call except in reverse.
Agonistic or threat calls are intense and therefore loud; starting out slow and becoming faster. These calls are often performed by both the male and the female 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 action.
The first level of aggression is often performed as flying geese approach a flock on a roosting area or feeding field. The call is performed by the geese on the ground while the goose’s neck is extended upward and the head erect, with the mouth open and tongue out. If the geese in the air do not land in the area occupied by other geese there is usually no further action. If the flying flock lands too close to a flock already on the water or ground the geese on the ground or water may begin to use the second level of aggression.
In the second level of aggression the goose calls with the neck extended skyward, the head bent toward the ground, while the head is pumped up and down. The action is directed toward an intruder or a subdominant, usually on the ground or water, and the intruder or subdominant usually moves away from the threatening bird.
In the highest level of aggression the neck is extended forward along the ground or water and the head is tilted slightly upward. If the intruder or 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 eggs or young are present, the goose will warn the intruder with a hiss while the mouth is open and the tongue out.
The mating or triumph call is used by the male goose 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 and loud then slows and gets quieter as the mood of the goose returns to normal. During the call the neck and head of the goose are extended upward.
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 it’s 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.
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 “onk” 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.
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 become silent.
Don’t Call To Geese to Come Down and Feed
One of the biggest problems goose hunters have is that they try to call to a flock of geese in the air to come down and feed with the decoys on the ground. Based on his years of research Dr. Cooper says geese do not call to other geese 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 calling back and forth to each other, using the “Here I am. Where Are You?” in an effort to get back together. These individual calls make up the sound of a feeding flock of geese. 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. When this happens the resting or feeding geese begin using the double cluck threat call, telling the approaching geese to stay away and not land near them. This 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 performing the double cluck, you are not asking the geese to come and feed with you, you are telling them to go away or they will be attacked. Your calling should be loud and aggressive, not friendly, pleading or begging.
While landing the geese are backpedaling to slow their descent 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 landing call along with the double cluck threat call it signals that geese are landing and 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 calls.
Large flocks in the air do not call to locate other flocks, they are only calling to other family members within the flock so they can 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 another form of the “Here I am. Where are you?” referred to 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. An excellent reference is the book Handbook Of Waterfowl Behavior, by Dr. Paul Johnsgard. Although this book is out of print it can be found in larger libraries.
This article is an excerpt form the book Goose Addicts’ Manual by T.R. Michels, $5.95
If you are interested in more waterfowl hunting tips, or more waterfowl biology and behavior, click on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.’s Hunting Tips at www.TRMichels.com. If you have questions about ducks and geese log on to the T.R.’s Tips message board.
T.R. Michels is a nationally recognized game researcher/wildlife behaviorist, outdoor writer and speaker. He is the author of the Whitetail, Elk, Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict’s Manuals. His latest products are Hunting the Whitetail Rut Phases, the Complete Whitetail Addict’s Manual, the 2005 Revised Edition of the Elk Addict’s Manual; and the 2005 Revised Edition of the Duck & Goose Addict’s Manual. For a catalog of books and other hunting products contact: T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, E-mail: TRMichels@yahoo.com , Web Site: www.TRMichels.com