The Blue Goose has been the symbol of the National Wildlife Refuge System since it first was drawn by Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling, one of the greatest proponents of wildlife conservation in the 20th century. Darling was the first chief of the U.S. Biological Survey, the forerunner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


There is a real blue goose, once thought to be a separate species but now recognized as a dark form, or “morph,” of the snow goose.


The first recorded use of Darling’s goose on an official sign is at Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge, ND, in about 1934. But “there is surprisingly little documentation about exactly how the Blue Goose became the icon of the Refuge System,” says Service historian Mark Madison. “All we can say for sure is some of the earliest Blue Goose depictions are in fact black, making it look more like a Canada goose.”


By the 1980s, entrance signs were being tailored to specific refuges. The Service shield was used more widely, and the Blue Goose did not fly consistently across refuge lands until 1999, when Fulfilling the Promise recommended that it be a permanent element on refuge boundary and entrance signs. Under Service policy, such signs now include the Blue Goose. Examples of official signs can be found at http://www.fws.gov/policy/do120.pdf.


The familiar image—which since has been fashioned into stuffed animals, lapel pins, full–size costumes and computer flash drives—prompted Rachel Carson to urge the public to watch for “the sign of the flying goose—the emblem of the National Wildlife Refuge System … Wherever you meet this sign, respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving, for themselves and their children, as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization.”