Snow Goose


Chen caerulescens

Snow geese migrate to Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge in the fall from their breeding grounds on the tundra in northeastern Canada. They arrive in October and remain until February. They reside in the moist soil units and marshes on the refuge and in the Bay and River surrounding the refuge.


Snow Geese are vegetarians with voracious appetites for grasses, sedges, rushes, forbs, horsetails, shrubs, and willows. They will consume nearly any part of a plant—including seeds, stems, leaves, tubers, and roots—either by grazing, shearing plants off at ground level, or ripping entire stems from the ground. In winter and during migration they also eat grains and young stems of farm crops, along with a variety of berries.


Snow geese are medium sized geese hefty bills and long, thick necks. Juveniles are slightly smaller than adults in the fall, and this can be noticeable in flocks during fall and early winter. They are white-bodied geese with black wingtips that are barely visible on the ground but noticeable in flight. The pink bill has a dark line along it, often called a "grinning patch" or "black lips." The dark morph Snow Geese, or "Blue Geese," have a white faces, dark brown bodies, and white under their tails. They are 27 to 32 inches long, have a wingspan of 54 approximately inches, and weigh 4 to 8 pounds.


Snow geese breed in colonies on Canadian and Northern Alaskan tundra in the vicinity of the coast, from the high arctic to the subarctic. They choose areas near ponds, shallow lakes, coastal salt marshes, or streams, preferring rolling terrain that loses its snow early and escapes flooding during spring thaw. Snow Geese form three separate regional populations—eastern, central, and western—distinctions that are more or less preserved as the geese migrate to their wintering grounds.