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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 its "snow" phase, the snow goose's body is mostly white with black wingtips; in its "blue" phase, its body is grayish-blue. It has a pink, serrated bill with a black "grin patch" on the side, and its feet and legs are red. Adults grow to about 38 inches in length with a wingspan of 59 inches.

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

Habitat:

Prefers tidal marshes and wetlands, but can 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 northern breeding grounds in early March, traveling through New England and Canada before reaching the Arctic. 

Feeding:

These birds are herbivores who use their strong, serrated bills to dig roots out of the ground. They feed on marsh grasses, including rushes and cattails, and forage in farm fields for grass, clover and grains. 

Predators:

Foxes prey on eggs and young geese on breeding grounds. Humans hunt adult snow geese. 

Flight:

Flocks fly in long, diagonal or V-shaped patterns. Snow geese can be identified in flight by their white bodies and dark wingtips.

Voice:

Their call is a shrill, nasal la-uk or houck-houck.

Snow Goose courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen/Avian Vocalizations Center

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Snow geese do not breed in the Chesapeake Bay region; they return 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. The lifespan of the snow goose is unknown, 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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