The snow geese are here! These medium-sized white geese breed in the high Arctic tundra and winter in southern wetlands and agricultural fields. For a few months in the spring Big Valley, where we live, is graced with thousands of northward migrating snow geese (Chen caerulescens). What a beautiful sight they make covering a field or pond with a blanket of white. When hundreds of snow geese take flight they do look like a snow storm. We are so lucky to be on their migratory route.
Snow geese are very similar to the white Ross’s geese (Chen rossi). I find the two species very difficult to distinguish – both are white with head shape and size important in identification . Snow geese have pink bills and legs. A dark patch along the cutting edge of the bill (“grin patch”) is an important field mark for the snow goose. Juveniles have a grayish “wash” over their head and neck and dark secondary and tertiary wing feathers. Juvenile legs are also more dusky than those of adults. Snow geese have a dark morph which is caused by a single partially dominant gene. Both morphs of snow geese and Ross’s geese will hybridize leading to even further identification problems. Some day I will need to post pictures of both species for comparison.
Snow geese are completely vegetarian. The young stay with their parents for the first winter, travelling together for both the south and north migrations. On return to the tundra the family groups will break up. Courtship occurs during the spring migration. Snow geese court and breed for the first time during their second spring migration.
These snow geese were photographed in Ash Creek Wildlife Refuge in Big Valley California.