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Snow Goose

Snow Goose
Chen caerulescens
(Order Anseriformes; Family Anatidae)

Adult Snow Goose.

Snow Goose in flight.

Adult Diagnosis: Snow Geese are known for their mostly bright white feathers with black wing-tips (they are barely visible in flight).  The Blue goose is what the same species is called if they are gray-brown.  Snow Geese are stocky, short-necked with a large stubby pink bill with a “grin patch” (black lips).  Snow Geese have pink legs.  Their size can range from 69 – 83 cm, with a wingspan of 1.4 m and weight around 1.6 – 3.3 kg.  Juveniles are slightly smaller than the adults, are grayer, and turn white with age. Their sound is an “owk-owk”, a nasal honking.

Natural History:  Snow geese are often seen in huge flocks that fly in a “V” shaped formation to reduce wind and risk of collision.  They breed in the Arctic tundra, from late May to mid-August.  They spend more than half the year on their migration to and from warmer wintering areas.  They travel over 3000 miles and will be seen in plowed cornfields or wetlands during this time.  Lakes, ponds, and marshes are where they roost, and they bathe along any type of open water.  They mate for life and usually remain together year-round, even during migration and stay together until one dies.  To prepare to lay eggs the female will forage up to 18 hours/day once she arrives at the breeding grounds.  Once she starts to incubate eggs, she will eat very little.  The female Snow Goose will lay 2-6 eggs in a nest on the ground.  Their eggs are not all laid at once, and you can tell the oldest is the dirtiest.  Chicks can swim and eat on their own within 24 hours.  They stay together as a family through the first winter.  Goslings can walk up to 50 miles or more with their parents.  The oldest goose was shot in Texas in 1999, and it was 27 years old.

Distribution:  Snow Geese are now one of the most abundant species and can be found as far north as Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and even in Siberia.  They winter in the warm parts of North America, Southwest British Columbia and all the way south to Mexico.  There are two subspecies, the Lesser Snow Goose which is more widespread than the Greater Snow Goose that has a limited breeding range.

Distribution of Chen caerulescens

Habitat:  Snow geese will be found in open fields and bodies of water in their wintering grounds across the United States.  In the colder seasons, you will find snow geese in the southern coastal marshes, bays, wet grasslands and fields.  At the end of winter, Snow Geese fly north to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.

Diet:  Snow Geese are vegetarian. They feed on grasses and grains that are grazed from damp soils or even in shallow water.  Food is digested quickly only in an hour or two generating 6-15 droppings/hr.  Defecation rate is the highest when a goose is grubbing for rhizomes, high in fiber, and then they swallow mud.

Conservation status: Stable (In 1916, hunting of the species was banned!)

Through the Lens: Snow Goose Migration


Snow goose:

Snow goose sounds:

Video of flocks or snow geese during a tornado:


Wilsdon, Christina. 2006. Smithsonian Q & A The Ultimate Question And Answer Book.  HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY.

Frances, Peter. 2007. BIRD, The Definitive Visual Guide.  Audubon, DK Publishing, New York, NY.

Kaufman, Kenn. 2000. Birds of North America.  Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY.


Submitted by:  Tammey Shimon, July 2013

Wichita State University
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