Migratory Bird Program
Conserving the Nature of America

Snow Geese - What birds are we talking about?


Lesser Snow Goose FlockRoss’ geese are often mistaken for lesser snow geese due to their similar appearance. However, Ross’ geese are smaller, have a shorter bill, and have a faster wing beat.



Ross GooseLesser snow geese ( Chen caerulescens caerulescens) and Ross’ geese (C. rossi) flock together on the breeding grounds, wintering grounds, and on stops along the migratory route. They are very difficult to distinguish when they mix together.




Lesser Snow GeeseLarger lesser snow geese constitute the majority of the birds causing habitat degradation in the Arctic due to their aggressive feeding strategies. Lesser snow geese graze, grub (overturn the soil in search of roots), and pull and break off shoots of grass.



Habit DegradationThe rapid growth of these species’ populations coupled with their feeding strategies has exerted significant pressures on the breeding grounds resulting in widespread habitat degradation (link to pictorial) that affects numerous migratory birds, including lesser snow and Ross’ geese. The populations must be reduced to halt the degradation and allow the breeding grounds to recover and sustain the rich ecological diversity so many species have come to depend on.



Geese are referred to either as “light” geese or “dark” geese based on their basic coloration. Snow and Ross’ geese are “light” geese. Most lesser snow and Ross’ geese exhibit a white phase where the whole goose is white. However, some lesser snow and Ross’ geese also exhibit a “blue” phase where they are brownish with a primarily white head. At one time, blue phase and white phase lesser snow and Ross’ geese were considered to be two different species. Genetic research determined that they were indeed the same species with two color phases.


Canada Geese

Canada geese and white-fronted geese are “dark” geese. These species exhibit a brownish color over their entire body with white or lighter accents in some cases. Dark geese do not exhibit another color phase.

Geographic Regions

The lesser snow and Ross’ goose populations causing the habitat degradation in the central and eastern arctic and subarctic breed in the eastern and central portions of northern Canada and migrate and winter in the Central and Mississippi Flyways, also known as the “Mid-continent” regions of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. They spend the winter primarily in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Arkansas and in some northern States in Mexico.

Approximate Ranges of Selected Goose Populations


Last updated: April 11, 2012