Wildfowl are frequently referred to as ornamental ducks, geese and swans. In the wild, these birds populate the world, apart from Antarctica. Some individual species such as the mallard are very widely distributed, others such as Laysan teal occupy very small areas. There are no true geese in the southern hemisphere.
There are numerous collections of Wildfowl throughout the UK which are owned by individuals, municipal bodies and other organisations. Many species which are maintained in captivity in the British Isles are indigenous to warmer countries but are quite hardy. Under suitable management the birds thrive, breed regularly and have a life expectancy greater than in the wild. A knowledge of the role played by wildfowl species in their natural wetland habitats is essential to understanding their needs in captivity.
A small pond and enclosure is suitable for a few birds but where a larger pond or lake is available there is greater scope for the establishment of a much wider variety of species. The birds must be enclosed and protected from predators and there are several methods of ensuring their safety. Please note that in the UK it is an offence to allow non-indigenous species to escape into the wild. Wheat and a compound pellet are appropriate food for most species. Where the pond and the area of the enclosure together with the wildfowl are reasonably balanced, it is perfectly feasible to plant successfully to create a feature which is attractive to the eye and enhances the beauty of the residents.
All geese originate from the northern hemisphere. Known as ‘true geese’ to distinguish them from the ‘look alike’ sheldgeese of the southern hemisphere. They can be divided into two groups; pale-breasted geese and dark-breasted geese. The two groups make up a total of sixteen species from the popular red-breasted goose through to the less common snow goose.
In the wild, geese are gregarious, particularly so out of the breeding season, on migration and on their wintering grounds. In captivity a single pair of most species will thrive and breed but if space permits it is more natural to keep more than one pair of the same or different species together. Ornamental ducks may also be kept with ornamental geese, usually without difficulty although sheldgeese and some shelducks mix less successfully.
Geese need plenty of grazing space, so concentrate on ducks if your enclosure is small. Assuming extra feeding, in addition to grazing particularly in winter, a rough guide is ten pairs per acre. The birds must be enclosed and protected from predators; it is essential to have a 2 metre high (6′-8′) fox proof fence.
Geese bond for life. While the sexes look identical they can breed in captivity in the third year. For breeding and otherwise, all geese need a pond. A pond of sufficient depth, say 50cms (18″), and an area large enough for two birds to bathe and turn over on their sides is a minimum requirement for a contented pair of captive geese.