SNOW GOOSE – (Anser caerulescens)
The Snow Goose is a white goose that is smaller than the Canada Goose. It has black wing primaries, a pink bill with black commissures, and pink legs. The dark blue morph has various amounts of that color, although the head is white. The white juveniles have some grey, while the blue juveniles are dark grey. Sexes are similar.
The name ‘Goose’ is from Dutch and German, and ‘Snow’ refers to the white color of the main morph, although there is also a blue morph – hence the Latin species name ‘caerulescens’, which means ‘dark blue’. The Latin name ‘Anser’ means ‘goose’.
As opposed to the more ‘disciplined’ V formation of the Canada goose when flying, snow geese fly in loose flocks that can be huge – ten of thousands strong, with most birds likely honking at the same time, so they can be heard from a long distance. They also honk seemingly all the time, both males and females, even at night.
Snow geese are a ‘poop’ manufacture – due to their diet where they eat rhizomes during migration and inevitably swallow mud at the same time, they may leave up to a dozen droppings per hour!
Snow geese breed in colonies on high ground in the tundra, in a shallow depression lined with vegetation. Snow geese may breed with other goose species such as the Canada Goose or the Cackling Goose, and the resulting hybrids can be fertile.
The snow goose does not breed on PEI. Occurrences of this bird species on the island range from ‘uncommon’ to ‘rare’ to ‘occasional’ during migration. Two individuals were observed at Lake of Shining Waters at Park Corner on Sept. 25, 2005. This species’ breeding range is located in the high Arctic. It spends the winter inland in the southern USA, and along the coasts of that country and Mexico in the Gulf of the same name.
Conservation: (usually this section is for birds threatened due to a population decrease, but here it’s the opposite). The population of the snow goose was very low in the early 20th century, due to unregulated hunting. Since then it has rebounded to a point where breeders in the Arctic have a negative impact on the habitat for other species, and this in spite of legal hunting. A contributing factor to the three-fold population increase since the 1970s is expansion of agricultural land, where they graze in the winter for corn and grain leftovers.