Homosexuality and three way relationships in Greylag Geese

Greylag Geese (Anser anser) are like a big group of 70s hipsters. They live together in huge flocks, migrate around, and are accepting of all kinds of love. Homosexuals and Trinogamous included.

I think if they’d been allowed, they would have attended Woodstock.

Greylag Goose head
Photo by Edwyn Anderton


While heterosexual couples are dominant in Greylag geese populations, a surprising 20% exist in male male couples. They behave just like heterosexual couples, supporting each other in conflicts with other flock members, performing a special ‘triumph ceremony’, which pairs them for life and yes, even trying to mount each other.

Maybe more surprising though is that 15% of the population exist in trios, where a female goose joins up with a pair of male ganders. If the female becomes pregnant, all three geese will raise the chicks forming a little family with three parents.

Greylag Geese pair
Photo by Edwyn Anderton

It seems the science behind this free love has a lot to do with goosey aggression – and if you’ve ever met a goose before you’ll know what I’m talking about. They’re very temperamental.

In Greylag flocks, pairs support each other against the inevitable harassment from other flock members and consequently have a much better chance of winning compared to a single goose. The stakes are made especially high when loosing fights can mean expulsion from the flock.

Due to a natural lack of females in Greylag populations some males who’re left over pair up with each other instead, giving them a fighting chance to stay in the flock.

But as mentioned above, this seemigly ‘best of bad’ relationship isn’t any less loving, with the male male pairs still committing to each other a with head bopping ceremony that joins them for life.

The homosexual couples have even been reported to be less aggressive than heterosexual ones, and to possibly act as guardians to the flock, keeping watch from the edge of the group.

So all in all, the acceptance of the homosexual couples in Greylag flocks are positive for not just the geese involved, but for the flock as a whole as well. Now we just have to wait for us humans to follow in their path.

Greylag Goose and chicks
Photo by Edwyn Anderton

References:

Huber, R., & Martys, M. (1993). Male-male pairs in greylag geese (Anser anser). Journal für Ornithologie, 134(2), 155-164.

Weiß, B. M., Kotrschal, K., & Foerster, K. (2011). A longitudinal study of dominance and aggression in greylag geese (Anser anser). Behavioral Ecology, 22(3), 616-624.

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