Snow Goose

Anser caerulescens

Last updated: November 16, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/Michel VIARD

The snow goose has a dark line along their beaks known as a ‘grinning patch’!


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Snow Goose Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Anseriformes
Family
Anatidae
Genus
Anser
Scientific Name
Anser caerulescens

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Snow Goose Conservation Status

Snow Goose Locations

Snow Goose Locations

Snow Goose Facts

Name Of Young
Gosling
Group Behavior
  • Flock
Fun Fact
The snow goose has a dark line along their beaks known as a ‘grinning patch’!
Estimated Population Size
16 million
Wingspan
54.3 inches
Incubation Period
24 days
Habitat
Lakes, rivers, ponds, open fields and pastures, and coastal shores.
Diet
Herbivore
Lifestyle
  • Flock
Special Features
Black "grinning patch"
Average Clutch Size
-1
Nesting Location
On dry land near coastal water
Migratory
1

Snow Goose Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • White
  • Pink
Weight
56.4 to 116.4 ounces
Length
27.2 to 32.7 inches
Venomous
No

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Snow Goose Summary

“The snow goose has a dark line along their beaks known as a ‘grinning patch’!”

Snow geese are an average-size species that comes in two different morphs or colors. They are found throughout much of North America. They are rarely seen traveling without the presence of a large flock around them. Their population is thriving, a fact which many researchers contribute to their use of agricultural fields.

Snow Goose Amazing Facts

  • There is a blue morph and a white morph, with the white gene being recessive to the dark.
  • Within their first three weeks of life, this species may walk up to 50 miles.
  • The oldest individual was over 30 years old.
  • They mate for life.

Where to Find Snow Geese

The snow goose is a North American species and can be found from southern Mexico to the Queen Elizabeth Islands (the northernmost islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago), depending on the time of year. Despite this, certain varieties may choose to settle on nearby continents. This includes those that winter in the western regions of North America, occasionally breeding in Siberia, or those in the east breeding in Greenland.

Most often, you will see them in migration, as this is when they are settled in the largest range of areas. During migration, they can be seen in the southernmost regions of the United States all the way to the northern coast of Alaska and continental Canada. The majority of the species breeds in the Queen Elizabeth Islands, where there are few human inhabitants to enjoy the sight of these geese and their goslings. Come winter, many will settle in the United States, with large populations dotting the eastern and western coasts as well as being largely abundant in the central region of the country. Some may also winter in central and coastal Mexico. 

Snow geese will typically nest along streams and ponds, though they may also choose to settle around coastal salt marshes and brackish marshes. Alongside these aquatic environments, snow geese have also taken to agricultural fields and other open habitats for the winter.

Snow Goose Nests

The female is responsible for choosing the nesting site, although the male will be alongside her for the process. This spot is often hidden by vegetation. When possible, snow geese prefer to build their nest on dry ground. Because they breed in arctic regions, however, this can be difficult, as the melting snow often leaves the ground damp. Sometimes, she will begin several nests before choosing a permanent one. After this, she may begin to lay her first egg within one hour.

Along with picking the nesting location by herself, the female builds the nest on her own. As he develops the nest, she lays eggs. Typically, the nest begins as a small scrape in the ground to which she adds down feathers plucked from her own plumage. In areas where there is less vegetation courage and thus less security, the larger and more well-developed the nest will be. Some may include natural materials, such as grasses, twigs, and seaweed. 

Snow Goose Scientific Name

The scientific name of the snow goose is Anser caerulescens. This name originates from Latin, from the words anser, meaning ‘goose,’ and caerulescens, meaning ‘bluish,’ as derived from the word caeruleus, meaning ‘dark blue.’

They are in the class Aves and the order Anseriformes. Their family is that of Anatidae, which contains ducks, geese, and swans. 

Snow Goose Size, Appearance, and Behavior

The snow goose is a rather large bird, although it is around average size for a goose. They are compact, however, with smaller necks than other species, such as the Canada goose. Adults can grow to be 27.2 to 32.7 inches in length, and they can weigh 56.4 to 116.4 ounces. They have a large wingspan, with that of an adult individual averaging around 54.3 inches from wingtip to wingtip. 

There are two different morphs for this species. The first is the recessive morph, which is entirely white with black wingtips. These black markings may not be easy to see on the ground, but they are visible during flight. The second morph is the dominant dark morph. Geese with this morph have dark brown bodies with white heads. The underside of their tail is also white. 

Regardless of the morph, these geese have pink bills with a black marking known as a grinning patch.

This differs for juveniles, however. Juvenile white morph geese are speckled with areas of brown buff, especially on their head. Juvenile dark morphs are dark brown all over, with no noticeable white markings on their plumage. They also tend to have darker bills, though the grinning patch is still visible in many individuals.

Snow geese travel together in large flocks. Usually, this includes a few dozen other individuals of the same species. However, it can also include up to several thousand individuals.  

Adult blue morph snow goose in New Mexico corn field with white morph snow geese lifts head and calls

There are two different morphs of snow geese.

©Florence-Joseph McGinn/Shutterstock.com

Snow Goose Migration Pattern and Timing

Snow geese are medium-distance migrants with no notable year-round populations. They winter in the southernmost extents of their range, in the United States and Mexico, before migrating through the countries to settle in the northern region of Canada for breeding.

Snow Goose Diet

The snow goose is primarily an herbivore, although goslings may consume some animal products. They easily consume the entirety of the plant through a variety of methods, including grazing as well as ripping the plant through the ground. 

What Do Snow Geese Eat?

Some of the plants that snow geese will eat include:

  • Stems
  • Leaves
  • Tubers
  • Roots
  • Seeds
  • Fruits
  • Flowers

Young goslings may occasionally eat fly larvae. 

Snow Goose Predators and Threats

Overall, snow geese face few significant threats outside of predation from both other animals as well as humans. This is because they typically nest in remote areas with little to no interference. However, like all species of waterfowl, they can be threatened by pollution in the waterways in which they live. Because they forage on the ground, they may also occasionally suffer from lead poisoning as a result of consuming dropped lead shots.

What Eats Snow Geese?

Some of the predators for these geese and their young include:

Snow Goose Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Snow geese mate for life. They will often choose their mate based on morph, preferring mates with the same plumage as close family members. The female incubates the nest while the male stands guard, though he may occasionally leave for short periods of time. 

This species has one brood per year, usually containing, on average, two to six eggs. These eggs are white in color and can be easily stained. This helps in identifying the oldest eggs, as they will often possess more stains than those laid more recently. 

The average incubation period for this species of goose is 24 days. During this time, the female can spend over 21 hours each day in the nest. When they are first born, the young goslings are covered in down with their eyes opened. The nestling period lasts only a day before they are able to leave the nest. 

Snow goose, chick. Chen caerulescens.

Young goslings are born with down and are able to leave the nest after one day.

©Tathoms/Shutterstock.com

Snow Goose Population

The snow goose is a species of least concern. In fact, they have actually experienced impressive population growth in recent decades. Many scientists have attributed this to the fact that the arctic regions of the snow goose’s range are warming. This includes areas where snow geese migrate and breed, creating more inhabitable conditions for these birds. They are estimated to have a global breeding population of 16 million individuals.

Large flock of Snow Geese at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area Reserve in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA

These geese can form flocks featuring several thousand individuals.

©Amy Lutz/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Megan is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is birds, felines, and sharks. She has been researching and writing about animals for four years, and she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in biology and professional and technical writing from Wingate University, which she earned in 2022. A resident of North Carolina, Megan is an avid birdwatcher that enjoys spending time with her cats and exploring local zoological parks with her husband.

Snow Goose FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do snow geese migrate?

Yes, for both breeding and wintering.

How many eggs do snow geese lay?

Snow geese can lay between two and six eggs per year.

How fast do snow geese fly?

Snow geese can reach speeds up to 50 miles per hour.

What is the snow geese's wingspan?

They have a wingspan of 54.3 inches.

When do snow geese leave the nest?

They are born with down and eye open, and they are able to leave the nest after one day.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. , Available here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13280-016-0887-1

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