A "Snow-Like" Blizzard

By Dave Hanks

Overhead I hear the constant talking of geese in autumn migration. Expecting to view Canadians, which regularly fly over our place, I notice an armada of white. They are Snow Geese. They are large, white birds that get their name from their color and from the fact that a flock of them, either rising from or settling down to the ground, have a resemblance to a snow flurry.

Bosque del Apache National Reserve in New Mexico is a favorite wintering site for this species. To visit this place in January or February, will reward anyone seeking an experience with this bird. There are always several thousand, mixed in with a like number of Sandhill Crane, feeding in the harvested corn fields and ponds of the refuge.

This goose is 27 to 33 inches long. The male is slightly bigger than the female – both of which look alike. Unlike swan, they have black wing tips. There is also a patch on the bill that some people think resembles a smile. It is called a “grin patch.” There is a blue morph (once considered a separate species) that has a white head and upper neck and a bluish body. A single, recessive gene, when present, results in this variance in the species. Snow Geese are very gregarious and nest in huge colonies, from June through August, on the arctic tundra. There may be as many as 20,000 in a colony.

The young stay with their parents through the autumn migration, on the wintering grounds, and during the flight back to the arctic. They then start life on their own, which requires two to three years to reach sexual maturity.When they are ready to take a mate, it’s a lifetime commitment.

It is exhilarating to watch these birds, in the early morning or at dusk, rising off the fields or shallow water bodies of the Bosque. When the entire group lifts off a pond together, it’s like viewing a major wonder of the world! Other folks must feel the same way, as they are there in large numbers - their cameras clicking away.

(Foraging in the shallows for vegetative matter)