Today’s featured waterfowl is the Snow Goose, a winter visitor who travels in flocks that can number to the several hundred thousand.
I remember my first experience with Snow Geese a few winters ago. It was at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR. A large flock flew in and made landed in middle of a field, honking loudly. There were thousands of them, and it was quite a spectacle to watch. There’s nothing quite like experiencing a flock of Snow Geese. Have you experienced a Snow Goose flock? Tell me about it in the comments.
Snow Goose (Chen caerulesens)
Snow Geese come in two color morphs: white and dark (or “blue”) morph.White adult Snow Geese are mainly white with black primary feathers and pink legs/bills. White juveniles have grayish upperparts and dark legs/bills. Dark adults have grayish-brown bodies with white heads and pink legs/bills, while juveniles are dark overall. There is a considerable amount of variation between birds that have a mix of white and dark morph plumage.
Summer (breeding): high arctic and subarctic areas of Canada and Northern Alaska. Migrates in large flocks through the middle of North America to reach winter destinations on the Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast into parts of the Midwest USA, and scattered areas around the Western United States. Snow Geese for 3 populations: west, central, and east; and will migrate south in the same region.
Tundra during breeding season; winters in agricultural fields, saltmarshes, streams, ponds, grasslands, and lakes.
Almost entirely plant materials: grasses, seeds, sedges, horsetails, shrubs, grains; and will consume any part of a plant. May also eat berries. Goslings (young geese) may eat insect larvae
Snow Geese usually start to breed around 3 years old, and may mate for life. In courtship displays, a pair will face each other and repeatedly stretch their necks up in unison. Pairs will pick a nest site together, but the female will build the nest. She will put a scrape in the ground and may add natural materials. As she lays more eggs, the female will line the nest with feathers plucked from her breast. Females can incubate the 2-6 eggs for up to 21 hours a day, with the male standing guard to defend the nest site. After 22-25 days of incubation, the goslings will hatch and leave the nest site within a few hours. Being precocial, they can forage for themselves, but will be tended to by the parents. Goslings fledge around 42-50 days after hatching.
One of the noisiest of waterfowl, giving a one-syllable harsh honk. Family groups will communicate using guttural notes.
Snow Goose numbers have grown considerably over the last century. Hunting is permitted, and about 400,000 geese annually are hunted in the United States and Canada.
- There are 2 races of Snow Geese: the Greater Snow Goose, who breeds in the northeastern region and winters on the Atlantic Coast, and the Lesser Snow Goose.
- While choosing a mate, a Snow Goose will usually choose another goose of the same “morph” (white or “blue”), or a mate that looks similar to its family members.
- Although their main activities are eating and resting, Snow Geese are strong swimmers, fliers, and walkers. Within the first 3 weeks of life, goslings may walk up to 50 miles with their parents to find a more suitable brood-rearing sight.