GCBO Bird of the Month

Snow Goose

by Mike Williams


The Snow Goose, (Anser caerulescens), first described by Linnaeus in 1758, has two recognized subspecies, the “Greater” Snow Goose and “Lesser” Snow Goose.

Found primarily in North America, they breed in the far north of Canada, and a small part of Greenland. They migrate south in the winter to the mid Atlantic coast, mid to south of certain central states, including eastern, coastal, and panhandle of Texas, parts of New Mexico, and some areas along the west coast.  

The “greater” nests specifically in the eastern arctic of Canada and winters on the mid-Atlantic coast, while “Lesser” Snow Goose occupies the rest of the species' range. 

Their breeding habitat is the Arctic Tundra, but in winter they are typically found in large flocks on agricultural fields and coastal marshes.

Snow Geese form three separate regional populations - eastern, central, and western – and more or less stay in such populations to their wintering grounds. 

Snow geese lay 3 to 5 white eggs in a scrape on the ground, lined with down. Nesting colonies can be very large with hundreds of pairs. The eggs are incubated for 23 to 25 days by the female only. The Snow Goose is monogamous.

Snow Geese are vegetarian, feeding on seeds, stems and grasses. In winter this is supplemented by berries, millet (grains), and wild rice.


Two morphs exist, an all-white morph with a pink bill and legs and dark primaries, and a dark morph with gray-blue upperparts and white underneath.

The two color morphs mate with each other, and may produce young of either or both colors. Only the “Lesser” subspecies have the blue morph. Sexes are similar, but the male is slightly larger. The only similar goose is the Ross’s Goose which is smaller and has a slightly different bill structure in both morphs, and a darker head in the dark morph.

Snow Geese can be very vocal and honk repeatedly. Their main call, made by both genders, is a harsh nasal, one-syllable honk, likening a “whouk”, or a higher “heenk”. Also, “howk-howk”. Flocks at a distance may sounds a bit like baying hounds. 

Interesting Facts:

·      During migration, Snow Geese fly at very high altitudes typically in Vs and arcs.

·      In the breeding season the head is often stained red due to eating vegetable material from iron rich mud.

·      A group of geese is known as a “blizzard, chevron, knot, plump or string. More regionally hunters call them “waives”. 

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