Photo: Snow geese in water

Its numbers in dangerous decline in the early 20th century, the snow goose has made a stellar recovery, so much so that it has overrun its habitat.

Photograph courtesy Dave Menke/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Map

Map: Snow goose range

Snow Goose Range

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Fast Facts

Type:
Bird
Diet:
Herbivore
Size:
27 to 33 in (69 to 83 cm); wingspan, 4.5 ft (1.4 m)
Weight:
3.5 to 7.3 lbs (1.6 to 3.3 kg)
Group name:
Flock
Did you know?
Snow geese fly in V-formation to reduce wind drag and risk of collision.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Snow goose compared with adult man

Snow geese are known for their white plumage, but many of them are actually darker, gray-brown birds known as blue geese. These birds were once though to be two separate species, but they have recently been found to be merely two different color morphs of the same bird. A single gene controls the color difference.

Snow geese are harbingers of the changing seasons. They fly south for the winter in huge, honking flocks that may appear as a "U" formation or simply as a large "snowstorm" of white birds. They spend the colder seasons in southern coastal marshes, bays, wet grasslands, and fields. Their diet is entirely vegetarian, consisting of grasses and grains, grazed from damp soils or even shallow water.

At winter's end, snow geese fly north to their breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra. Pairs mate for life, and produce two to six eggs each year in a shallow ground nest. Chicks can swim and eat on their own within 24 hours, but families remain together through the young's first winter. Families can be identified as groups during both the southern and northern migrations.

In 1916, snow geese had become so rare in the eastern United States that hunting of the species was banned. Since that time, the birds have made a remarkable comeback. Today, though hunting has been reinstated, populations are thriving. In fact, the birds have become so numerous in places that they threaten to destroy their own habitat.

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