Photograph by Sindre Ellingsen, Alamy

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Domestic geese in a Norwegian pasture menace a photographer.

Photograph by Sindre Ellingsen, Alamy

Honk If You Think Geese Are Good Guard Dogs

Some cops in China now use feathered friends instead of canine companions.

Cheese it, it's the geese!

Police in rural parts of China's Xinjiang Province are no longer turning to dogs to stand guard at police stations at night. They're using geese instead. And it works.

According to a recent report, a guy tried to break into a police station to take back a motorbike confiscated by the cops. The guard geese sounded the alarm, awakening the sleeping officers.

But ... really? Guard geese?

To gain insights into goose behavior, we spoke with Patrick Cumins, director of bird conservation at Audubon Connecticut, who has seen barnyard geese in action at a neighborhood park.

Would geese make good guards?

They have amazing hearing. And almost all birds have amazing eyesight. Not only do they see better at a distance than humans do, they can also see things up close [better than we do].

Our eyes have three different color sensors that combine to build the picture in our brain. Birds add a fourth—ultraviolet. They have a much wider range of wavelengths they can view. Things are going to look sharper. And they can pick out smaller things [as well as movement].

And I guess they're not shy when an intruder is sighted?

In terms of alerting people to activity, yeah, they're very vigilant. They're territorial. And certain species can be quite loud, especially the barnyard varieties.

Besides guarding a police station, are there any other things geese might guard?

I understand people in this country are using geese to guard their free-range chicken flocks.

So they're just really good watchdogs.

That's the beauty of it: It's instinct for them. They're territorial. They could fly off anywhere they want to, but they hang around their home. That's just the way a lot of geese act. Certain of them can be rather vigilant in defending their territory.

Would the same be true of swans?

I haven't heard of anybody using guard swans, but they can even be more aggressive than geese [when it comes to] defending their territory. There are stories of them knocking people out of kayaks, tangling with people and actually injuring them.

Is there any danger a guard goose would turn on a cop?

I don't think so. They seem to recognize you as part of the flock. If a new person came, the uniform might help the geese to acclimate [to that person]. People might all look the same [to a goose] if they're wearing uniforms.

Could a criminal distract a guard goose?

Dogs you can give some steak and they might be a little distracted. It's pretty hard to give geese something that's going to distract them enough where they wouldn't make noise. They might make more noise if you throw something yummy at them. And once they get going, they're hard to quiet down.

What would you feed them, anyway?

Geese are fairly easy to take care of. Feeding them is relatively inexpensive. There are specific [feed] mixes for geese, but they're happy eating cracked corn and grazing on grass.

Do geese have any other police-like traits?

The barnyard geese that live in our park are used to lots of people. They're not afraid of cars. They can be brazen. A major road goes right by [the park where the geese live]. Every once in a while all traffic stops as the geese walk across the road.

So a goose might also apply for a job as a crossing guard?

Yeah. You see one of the more dominant geese stop and stare down the cars while the others are crossing.