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Snow Goose

Chen caerulescens

Snow geese can be identified in flight by their white body and dark wingtips. (hjhipster/Flickr)
Snow geese can be identified in flight by their white body and dark wingtips. (hjhipster/Flickr)

The snow goose is a plump, white bird that visits the Chesapeake Bay region in winter.

Appearance:

  • In "snow" phase, body is mostly white with black wingtips. In "blue" phase, body is grayish-blue
  • Pink, serrated bill with black "grin patch" on side 
  • Red feet and legs 
  • Adults grow to about 38 inches with a wingspan of about 59 inches

Field Guide: Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) from Chesapeake Bay Program on Vimeo.

Habitat:

  • Prefers tidal marshes and wetlands, but can also be found in isolated farm fields near water 
  • Lives in large flocks that can number in the thousands

Range:

  • Arrives in the Chesapeake Bay region, especially the Delmarva Peninsula, in late November
  • Returns to its northern breeding grounds in early March, traveling through New England and Canada before reaching the Arctic 

Feeding:

  • Herbivores who use strong, serrated bill to dig roots out of the ground 
  • Feeds on marsh grasses, including rushes and cattails, and forages in farm fields for grass, clover and grains 

Predators:

  • Foxes prey on eggs and young geese on breeding grounds
  • Humans hunt adults 

Flight:

  • Flocks fly in long, diagonal or V-shaped patterns
  • Can be identified in flight by white body and dark wingtips

Voice:

  • Shrill, nasal la-uk or houck-houck
Snow Goose courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen/Avian Vocalizations Center

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Does not breed in the Chesapeake Bay region 
  • Returns to the Arctic tundra to breed, where nesting colonies can number in the tens of thousands 
  • White geese interbreed with those in the blue morph, tending to choose a breeding partner that resembles their parents’ coloring
  • Monogamous pairs usually form long-term bonds
  • Shallow depressions in the ground serve as nests, and are lined with dry vegetation and down from the mother's body 
  • Females lay three to five eggs, which are incubated for 23 to 25 days. Young fledge within 45 days and reach maturity in two years 
  • Lifespan is not known, but is believed to be more than 15 years in the wild

Other Facts:

  • The snow goose has one of the largest populations of any goose in the world. Snow geese rank behind only Canada geese in population size and harvest.
  • The blue goose was once thought to be a distinct species, but is now known to be a dark phase of the snow goose. A snow goose’s color is determined by genetics.

Sources and Additional Information:

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