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What Is a Snow Goose?

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  • Written By: Steve R.
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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The snow goose (Chen caerulescens) is a migratory bird, generally found in North America, that feeds mostly on vegetation and is known for its shrill honking call. The adult bird is about 27 to 33 inches (69 to 84 cm) in length with a wing span of up to 65 inches (165 cm) and may weigh up to 7 pounds (3.2 kg). Two subspecies of the bird exist, the lesser snow goose and the greater snow goose. Snow geese may have white or dark plumage but generally have black wing tips, black patches on the sides of their bills, and pink legs and bills.

Breeding in the Arctic, snow geese migrate south for the winter. Geese migrate to areas with warmer winter weather, including the northwest coast of the United States or the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana. The fowl also spend winters along the eastern seaboard from New Jersey to North Carolina. It is common for the snow geese to migrate to the Southwestern United States and even the central highlands of Mexico. During winters, the birds inhabit marshes, bays, and grasslands.

When a snow goose is 2 years old, it finds a mate. Male and female stay paired for life. Social creatures, snow geese nest together in large colonies. Some colonies include thousands of pairs of snow geese.

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Sexually mature at 2 to 3 years of age, snow geese mate around June. During mating season, snow geese are territorial, and couples defend their nest sites. A female generally lays four or five white eggs. Eggs take approximately three weeks to hatch and when born, the goslings are gray. Males and females share responsibility in raising their young and lead the young from the nest within a day of hatching.

The young are capable of feeding themselves after leaving the nest. A diet of a snow goose consists of seeds, grains, leaves, roots, grass, aquatic vegetation, and berries. Both parents stay with their young for at least the first winter and often go their separate ways after the second or third migration.

Good swimmers, snow geese do not dive to search for food, but often go under water to avoid predators, including eagles, foxes, and wolves. When on land, the birds are able to run quickly. Adept fliers, snow geese may soar at speeds of up to 50 miles (80.4 km) per hour.

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