Snow Geese Migration – Bird Watching Academy

Did you know that Snow Geese aren’t named so just because they inhabit snowy regions but because of their plumage that resembles the snow? Consequently, many birders are drawn to experience the fascinating Snow Geese and Snow geese migration every year.

The species was previously classified under genus Chen; however, later, they were classified as Genus Anser, the same genus as Gray Goose. Snow Geese are known for migrating in vast numbers across Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster and Lebanon counties. But did you know that Snow Geese are one of the world’s most abundant waterfowl species?

Snow Geese eat voraciously up to 12 hours a day! Yet they weigh 3.5-7 pounds only! Native to North America, these birds have many other intriguing facts that make them popular amongst the birders. Read on to know everything about Snow Geese and Snow Geese migration.

Identifying Snow Geese

There are two kinds of plumage morphs in the species of Snow Geese: white, known as snow, and the other is bluish-grey, known as blue. The White plumage of Snow Geese is entirely white; however, their wingtips are black.

While in the blue phase of Snow Geese, the plumage is bluish-grey all over their body except their heads, necks, and tail tips.

When the blue morph is young, the bird has a stale grey or a dull plumage and very little white or sometimes no white plumage on the heads, neck, or belly. Both the phases of the Snow Geese have red feet and legs, pink beaks, and black tomia. The younger ones have lighter red feet, pink beaks, and black tomia; as they are still growing and developing, the colors aren’t prominent yet. When feeding, the birds can have reddish-brown color on their heads from the soil as they are ground-feeders.

The Snow Geese are very chirpy birds and loud at the same time; they can be heard from a distance too during their travel on their migration path. Amongst all the waterfowl, Snow Geese are the noisiest. They have a nasal sound. They give a mono-syllable honk anytime!

The younger ones have relatively higher-pitched sounds. However, families have lower note sounds to communicate with each other while feeding.

Snow Geese Subspecies

The white morph and the blue morph were earlier categorized as subspecies of the same bird. However, it was later defined that they are the same species with two different phases.

These phases are genetically determined. A single dominant gene results in a blue morph, while homozygous recessive results in a white morph. The two morphs interbreed.

Mates are chosen by the young ones based on their resemblance with their parents, precisely the parent’s color, a mixed pair mating results in either of the morphs.

The division of the subspecies is categorized based on size and geography. The smaller subspecies of the lesser Snow Goose inhabit Central Northern Canada, and they are 64 to 79 cm tall. The lesser Snow Goose weighs between 2.05 to 2.7 kg.

The larger subspecies of the greater Snow Goose inhabits northeastern Canada. They are about 79 cm tall and weigh around 3.2 kg. Both the subspecies have a wingspan between 135 to 165 cm.

Where Can We Find Snow Geese?

The Snow Geese are always found in regions with proximity to the coast. Native to North America, the waterfowl birds are found in Canada and North Alaska, and Greenland.

They are located in the high arctic to the subarctic. They are also found in the tip of Northern Siberia, Mexico, and southwestern British Columbia. Snow Geese are amongst the birds that cover the longest bird migration distance.

Snow Geese inhabit shallow lakes, ponds, coastal salt marshes, and streams. The bird migration pattern is such that they prefer to migrate and inhabit sloping areas. Slopping areas are advantageous to the Snow Geese because these areas do not flood, and during winters, the snow doesn’t collect and fill up the land.

Snow Geese are also found in the British Isles. They visit there and are found with brant, barnacle goose, and greater white-fronted goose. Snow Geese are vagrants to Europe. A feral population is also found in Scotland.

What do Snow Geese Feed on?

Snow Geese are herbivores. They essentially feed in shallow waters and water-logged soils. They eat a wide range of plant species such as aquatic plants, grasses, and grains. The Snow Geese also feed on horsetails, willows, grasses, and rushes.

The Snow Geese are voracious eaters. They have a vegetarian diet. It is noted that in winters, they eat two to seven hours a day. During the Snow geese migration, they eat up to 12 hours daily as they store energy for the seasonal migration in spring.

The food they consume passes through their digestive system in just an hour or two. As a result, they discharge 6 to 15 droppings in an hour.

Breeding and Nesting

Breeding in Snow Geese does not start till three years. Although, long-term pairs are typically formed in the second year. Females usually return to the place they have hatched to breed. This is called philopatric.

Snow Geese mate for life. In the shallow ground nest, the Snow Geese lay eggs. Typically, two to six eggs are produced by the mated pairs. The breeding grounds of the Snow Geese are in the Arctic tundra.

The nests are usually placed in colonies. Based on the snow conditions, the nesting begins. It usually starts at the end of May and ends in early June. The females usually find the nesting areas, and the nests can be used for years. The female incubates the egg. The incubation period lasts for up to 22 to 25 days.

Just after a few hours after the hatching is over, the young ones leave the nests. Although the young ones find food for themselves quite early after they are born, the parents have to protect them for a while.

The young ones live with their parents for two to three years. They learn to fly after 42 to 50 days. The chicks can swim after 24 hours of being born. During the Snow Geese migration, the families can be distinguished as groups.

Why do Snow Geese Migrate?

Birds who inhabit the northern hemisphere migrate northwards during the spring when the insect population increases rapidly; the nesting areas also tend to increase. With the winter approaching, the temperatures become unfavorable, and the insect population and the food resources decrease; that’s when the birds migrate southwards.

Seasonal migration happens twice a year. There are two migrations, the spring migration, and the winter migration. In the spring period, the Snow geese migration starts and they migrate from the wintering grounds to the breeding grounds in Tundra. While in the winter period, the Snow Geese migrate from the breeding grounds to the wintering grounds.

These two migrations happen because the bird travels to their breeding grounds in the spring period to breed and lay eggs. In the winter period, they seek abundant food, water, and shelter that would be otherwise unavailable to them.

Snow Geese Migration Routes and Patterns

The breeding in Snow Geese occurs from late May to mid-August. They prefer to be in warmer areas during the winter. The snow geese tend to migrate to and fro from their wintering grounds and the breeding grounds.

This happens for more than half of the year. During the spring period, the Snow Geese migration, if we see the bird migration map, the species covers a distance of 4,800 km all the way to the Tundra region.

The migration route that the lesser Snow Geese take is the Mississippi Flyway, Central Flyway, and Pacific Flyway. They migrate to their wintering grounds, consisting of grassland and agricultural fields, and the Gulf coastal plain.

The migration route that the greater Snow Geese take is the Atlantic flyway to spend winter on a relatively more restricted region, the Atlantic coastal plain.

During both the Snow Geese migration, spring, and winter, the Snow Geese halt in the open spaces or habitats from all the flyways. It is hard to miss this out because they make their presence so prominent by making a cacophony of honks. Also, they are a huge crowd as they migrate in flocks.

The lesser Snow Geese initially migrated to coastal marsh areas for winters. They would dig up the roots of the plants in marshes to feed. However, due to the sudden decrease in the population of these birds, they shifted inland to agricultural sites.

This shift was to boost the Snow Geese population by overgrazing in their Tundra breeding sites. As a result, the population of Snow Geese increased unsustainably in the 20th century.

Snow Geese Overpopulation

In the early 1900s, the population of Snow Geese was very low, and for that reason, Snow Geese hunting had been prohibited. However, due to excessive breeding in the 1970s, the population of Snow Geese increased drastically and unsustainably.

The increase in population was 300%, the species that were once endangered became the most abundant species of Waterfowl.

This unmanageable increase of the Snow Geese population led to a conservation order passed in 2000. This conservation order implemented liberal hunting and limits rule. Spring hunting of Snow Geese was legalized in many parts of North America, including Missouri.

Hunters were allowed to hunt a large number of Snow Geese; this was a measure to curb the excessive and unsustainable growth of the species.

Missouri Snow Goose Hunting

The rapid and unmanageable surge of the population of Snow Geese is very daunting for the Missouri wildlife managers. As Missouri is one of the best spring migration staging areas for Snow Geese, hunters are being encouraged to come to Missouri at that time of the year.

Wetlands, marshes, and crop fields are in abundance in Missouri, making them ideal for Snow Geese and the spring Snow Geese Migration.

Missouri hunting is essential because many other species of migratory birds come to Missouri. The waste grains and weed seeds found in the rice fields of the agricultural lands of South Missouri are an excellent source of food. There has also been observed a significant increase in the agriculture of South Missouri over the years.

If the Snow Geese population keeps increasing unsustainably, it may cause a major imbalance in the ecosystem. For this reason, the Missouri Snow Goose hunting has been promoted extensively.

Snow Geese Conservation Order

Due to the overpopulation of Snow Geese, an order was passed by the Wildlife services called the Snow Geese Conservation Order. In this order, the hunting of Snow Geese has become liberal, the rules and regulations have eased, and the limit of hunting has increased. The hunting of Snow Geese in Missouri has been promoted too.

In order to participate in the hunting, the following must be ensured:

● Except for the strict restrictions and prohibitions on Snow Geese hunting, the other federal rules are applicable.

● A Delaware Harvest Information Program (HIP) number is needed to participate in the hunting.

● A Delaware Waterfowl Stamp or a valid Delaware LEN is required for all non-resident hunters.

Many other legal documentation and licenses need to be obtained to a participant in Snow Geese hunting. More information is available with the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Final Words

While we observe the intriguing Snow Geese Migration and the incredible species of Snow Geese, we must also look into the sustainable factors and how we can bring a balance to the ecosystem without harming a species.

If the right measures would be taken and the spur in the population of Snow Geese could be done sustainably, we wouldn’t see the current overpopulation situation. Neither would there be any further measures taken to curb the population.

This situation shines a light on the many environmental problems that have yet to be countered. The switch to sustainability, the necessity of a proper conservation strategy, and the need to live as gently and consciously as possible, with the entire ecosystem in our mind.

These are the points that have been highlighted over the years with the observation of the cases like the Snow Geese overpopulation. Thereby, a mutual understanding amongst the people and the concept of coexisting has been promoted. You can set goals to bird-watch for these Geese and record your results. 

Ornithology

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