Port Susan Snow Goose & Birding Festival > All About Snow Geese
60% of the Lesser Snow Geese that breed on Wrangle Island, Russia make a yearly migration to
Washington state. They take advantage of the variety of wetland and agricultural plants of the
Fraser-Skagit delta (Mount Vernon, Stanwood and Camano Island area) during the winter months
Anywhere from 60-100 thousand Snow Geese migrate south for the winter to the Skagit-Fraser
estuaries. Leaving in August they make their remarkable journey from Russia’s Wrangel Island,
Northern Alaska and the Canadian Arctic in about 10 weeks. The Snow Geese begin arriving
in the Stillaguamish Delta near Stanwood and Fir island by fall (late September to early October)
and have traveled approximately 3,000 miles. When flying they may reach altitudes close to
3,000 feet and can attain speeds approaching 50 mile per hour.
The Skagit-Fraser goose is the most common found in the area. It is a “white morph”, Lesser Snow Goose, all white with black wing tips, orange legs and bills. Juveniles are grey overall with dark legs. Snow Geese have a dark patch on the side of the bill that makes it appear to be open or grinning ( a “grin patch”). There are two subspecies of Snow Goose - the Greater and the Lesser Snow Goose which vary in size. Adult Snow Geese are approximately 28 inches tall - have a wing span of 53 inches - and weighs just over 5 pounds. Juveniles have dusky upper-parts with grayish legs.
Snow Geese feed almost exclusively on plant material. They are dependent upon intertidal marsh vegetation. In winter , waste grain from diked agricultural fields becomes their primary food source using cover crops such as winter wheat and pasture areas.
The life span of a Snow Goose in the wild is about eight years. Long-term breeding pairs bonds are usually formed in the second year, although breeding doesn’t typically start until the third year. The female selects a nesting site on high ground and then builds the nest. The nest is a shallow depression lined with plant material and may be used from year to year. After the female lays the first of three to five eggs, she lines the nest with down. Incubation lasts from 22 - 25 days, and the young leave the nest within a few hours after hatching. Both parents tend the young, but they feed themselves. After 42-50 days they can fly, but will remain with their family until they are two or three years old.
The Snow Goose population plummeted to less than 3,000 birds in 1900, but has made a strong a recovery since then. Many populations have increased to the point that they are causing management concerns. The Snow Goose is one of the most abundant species of waterfowl in the world, with a population close to 7,000,000 (7 million!). This recovery can be attributed to their ability to take advantage of previously unexploited food sources on migration routes and wintering grounds, Because of their practice of tearing vegetation out of the ground, they are destroying their own habitat in some these areas. Snow Geese are widely hunted (October to late January in Washington State), but more control measures may need to be taken in the future as the population continues to grow beyond an environmentally sustainable number.