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(For the week of February 15, 2010)
Snow Geese
by James L. Cummins

The snow goose is an ever-increasing species of goose in Mississippi. It has two color phases, a blue phase and a white phase. “Snows,” as they are commonly called, are highly sought-after birds in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, but the increasing occurrence of larger populations still hasn't generated a high demand by the Magnolia State's waterfowlers.

The snow goose is 27 to 31 inches in length and averages about 4.5 pounds as a juvenile and almost 6 pounds as an adult. Adults of the white phase are completely white with black wing tips and pink feet, bill and legs. Immature white-face snow geese have a gray head, neck, back and upper wing surface. Wingtips are black and the bill and legs are grayish-brown.

Adults of the blue phase have a bluish-gray body and a white head, neck and tail. There are varying amounts of white on them. The bill, feet and legs are pink. Overall, this phase appears dull brownish-gray with a gray upper wing.

Snow geese found in Mississippi nest in colonies in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of North America from Baffin Island to Wrangel Island in Siberia. The largest colonies, however, are centered on the western coast to Hudson Bay. Snow geese nest on low, grassy tundra plains. Nests consist of scrapes on the grounds that are made with vegetation such as moss, grass, sedges and willows. Most snow geese do not nest until they are 3 or 4 years of age. The average number of eggs each goose lays is four, with a 60 to 90 percent hatching success, so there is no wonder the population is so large.

Snow geese begin migrating from the breeding grounds in mid-August with the most of it occurring in September. During migration, snow geese are found resting and feeding largely in agricultural areas consisting of corn and winter wheat. As they migrate south, they shift to a diet of rice, soybeans and winter wheat.

Snow geese winter across the South Central and Western United States with the largest concentrations found in the central valley of California and the Gulf Coasts of Texas and Louisiana. In response to recent favorable habitat conditions, larger concentrations are wintering in Mississippi. The birds usually begin arriving in early December with the majority arriving in January. They remain here throughout winter and begin flying back to breed the first warm days of February.

Almost all snow goose management occurs on migration and wintering areas. As with other waterfowl, management consists of providing the geese with food and water, such as the rice fields of Mississippi.

James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi.