The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Outdoors

March 22, 2014

Focus on Wildlife: The Snow Goose

— The cacophony of honking boarders on ear splitting.

Watching the almost-unimaginably large flocks of snow geese swirl down out of the sky is surreal.  

These loud, white-and-black geese are visiting the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area near Kleinfeltersville is such huge numbers that they create the illusion of a heavy snow cover.

I overheard a fellow standing near me on one of the observation decks at the management area asking a volunteer guide how many geese were actually grazing in the field and floating on the lake that lay out in front of us.  

“Their numbers are constantly fluctuating due to take-offs and drop-ins.  But we estimate that more than 100,000 snow geese will stop over this season. At any given moment, snow geese along with tundra swans, Canada geese and many types of ducks can number between 40,000 and 50,000 birds,” the guide stated.

Snow geese are migratory game birds that are just one of the many success stories that are part of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s legacy.  

Hunting of snow geese was halted in our state in 1916 because their numbers had dropped dangerously low.  

But, by the mid-1970s their population had recovered to a point that a limited hunting season was permitted.  Today, their Conservation Status is currently listed as: Least Concern.  

We’re in the midst of our state’s the 2014 Spring Special Snow Goose Conservation Hunting Season. This is a well-regulated hunt that requires hunters to use non-toxic shot and to obtain several separate licenses and permits.  

Hunters may apply to a competitive pool for access to hunting blinds that are available at the Middle Creek and Pymatuning Wildlife Management Areas.

Snow geese populations have grown, particularly in the Southern James Bay/Mid-America Flyway, to a point that their central arctic tundra nesting areas are being stressed beyond their capacity.  

It turns out that snow geese are prodigious and efficient walkers.  

For example, goslings may walk up to 50 miles alongside their parents from their natal nest to more suitable brood-raising areas. What’s more, they can actually outrun many of their predators which include red foxes, caribou, polar and black bears, gray wolves and any type of raptor, gull or jaeger.

Snow geese mate for life. Child-raising duties are shared but it’s the female who chooses the nesting site and completes nearly all of its construction.  

Their nests are almost always on “terra firma” and frequently nearby melting snow which keeps the base of the nest damp.  Nest building might be considered stressful because often times the female will lay her first egg within an hour of the nest’s completion.

We humans might find it interesting that while the female is building her nest, she works continuously, without a break. What’s more, she cushions her eggs with soft fluffy down that she plucks from her own breast.  

Other nest building materials include seagrass, eelgrass, sea weed and twigs from nearby trees. Nests can range from three feet to seven feet in diameter.  A single brood may contain two to six eggs and less than half of the goslings will live to adulthood.

Snow geese are herbivores with voracious appetites. Mature birds dine on large amounts of grasses, rushes, horsetails, shrubs and sprouts. During the winter they will eat grains such as leftover farm fields that they will glean as well as young shoots from early spring crops.  

From time-to-time, a “Blue Goose” can be spotted in a flock of snow geese.  These blue-morphed geese are the result of a recessive gene that determines the bird’s color patterns.  

I learned a fascinating “factoid” that typically a blue goose will only select another blue goose as its life-long mate.  

Email comments to garrettoutdoors@gmail.com

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