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Snow Goose

Snow Goose

docentjoyce

The two common color morphs of the snow goose, the familiar all white bird and the less common blue goose with its white head and gray plumage, were once considered separate species. Today, the snow goose is a common waterfowl that creates amazing spectacles in its large flocks.

Common Name:

Snow Goose, Blue Goose

Scientific Name:

Chen caerulescens (occasionally classified as Anser caerulescens)

Scientific Family:

Anatidae

Appearance:

  • Bill: Triangular shape, pinkish-red with a black "grin patch" or "black lips" on either side
  • Size: 25-30 inches long with 54-60-inch wingspan, short tail, long neck, large head
  • Colors: White, black, gray, gray-brown, orange-pink, buff, yellow
  • Markings: Genders are similar with allover white bright white plumage that contrasts starkly with black primary feathers, the tips of which are also visible when the bird is at rest. The face may show a faint buff or pale yellow wash, and the black eyes stand out in the plain face. The legs and feet are orange-pink or reddish.

    The dark morph of this species, also called the blue goose, has a white head, upper neck and tail, but the rest of the plumage is gray. The wings are darker but the feathers are outlined with white. In flight, the dark morph shows a white wingpit with black primary and secondary feathers, compared to just the black primaries of the typical white morph.

    Juvenile birds are similar to adults but have pale buff or gray blurred mottling on the body and a dark bill.

Foods:

Grass, grain, plants, berries, tubers (See: Herbivorous)

Habitat and Migration:

These waterfowl prefer open waterways, marshes and agricultural areas with recently tilled soil. In summer, the snow goose's breeding range is in the far northern Arctic, extending from Canada along the Hudson Bay to Greenland and Siberia. In winter, these birds migrate to coastal areas or inland regions with sufficient open water to support their huge winter flocks, and they can regularly be seen from eastern Oklahoma to along the Gulf Coast from Mexico to the western Florida panhandle, with smaller populations along the Atlantic coast and in northern California.

Vagrant sightings of snow geese are regularly reported in Europe, but those sightings are often questionable because of the presence of escaped captive snow geese or feral populations. Additional vagrant sightings are occasionally reported in Central America, far further south than this bird's typical range.

Vocalizations:

The snow goose is one of the noisiest waterfowl, and their vocalizations include a range of throaty honks and grunts. Younger geese have a higher pitched voice that could be considered shrill. In their large flocks, these geese can create an overwhelming cacophony.

Behavior:

These are gregarious birds at all times of year and are often found in flocks of hundreds of thousands of birds, with larger flocks more common in winter. While feeding, several lookouts on the edge of the flock will issue warnings about danger if necessary while the rest of the birds feed without care. Snow geese form a broad U- or V-shaped formation in flight with even, steady wing beats. At night, these geese often roost while afloat.

Reproduction:

The snow goose is colonial, and there may be hundreds of pairs in dense nesting areas. The female parent builds a shallow scrape nest on the ground lined with moss, grass and down plucked from her own breast. The oval-shaped eggs are creamy white but can quickly become stained in the nest. There are 2-6 eggs per brood, and only one brood is laid per year.

The female incubates the eggs for approximately 24 days while the male guards her. After hatching, the precocial young leave the nest within a day and both parents care for them for an additional 40-50 days.

Snow geese have been successfully hybridized with other goose species, including the Ross's goose, greater white-fronted goose, Canada goose and cackling goose.

Attracting Snow Geese:

These are not common backyard birds but are abundant in many areas where the habitat is suitable, particularly in winter. Protecting open habitats where these birds spend the winter will help ensure the flocks return year after year, providing a spectacular sight for birders to see as hundreds of thousands of snow geese enjoy the same small area.

Conservation:

These birds are common and have increasing populations, so much so that overpopulation that damages habitat is a real concern in some nesting areas. Predators such as foxes, bears, wolves, common ravens, gulls, bald eagles and golden eagles are threats in nesting areas, and snow geese are also susceptible to lead poisoning from hunting practices. Because the bird's numbers are so strong, however, hunting is carefully regulated as a means of population control.

Similar Birds:

  • Emperor Goose (Chen canagica)
  • Ross's Goose (Chen rossii)
  • Bar-Headed Goose (Anser indicus)
  • Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
  • American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

Photo – Snow Goose © docentjoyce
Photo – Snow Goose in Flight © Pierre Bonenfant
Photo – Snow Goose Flock © Larry Lamsa

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