On our visit to Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge last Sunday, we saw thousands of Snow Geese. Growing up in the Midwest, we’ve always seen them from afar in cornfields or honking overhead in their classic V formations. But we’ve never been this close to them,
or seen such a large flock.
A little info about Snow Geese:
- They can be either all white with black wingtips, or bluish gray with a white head. Juveniles are light gray.
- They spend their winters in North America and Mexico, and their summers during the breeding season in Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia.
- They mate for life, and females will return to the place where they were born to raise their own young. Within a few hours of hatching, the young leave the nest. They can feed themselves, but are watched over by both parents. They learn to fly when about a month and a half old, but stay with their family for up to 3 years.
They stop at Squaw Creek, and other places like it to rest on their annual migration.
We watched as some of them slept standing on one foot with their head tucked over their back.
Some did a little foraging.
Some were quite chatty.
This one cleaned its tail feathers.
But most of them simply rested.
Occasionally, something would spook the flock, and they would rise in a mass of flapping wings and raucous honking.
They circled over our heads trying to determine if the danger had passed.
We got a good look at their snow-white tummies and outstretched wings.
Their flight looked so effortless, and I recalled how as a child I would dream about flying with the birds.
Finally they decided it was safe to land again, and came back down to the water.
See their little feet hanging down? They lower the landing gear long before they touch down.
Snow Geese nearly became extinct in the early 20th century, but today there are more than 5 million, with an increase of more than 300% since the 1970s. Scientists think the numbers are growing at alarming rates due to the availability of grain in farm fields in their winter grounds, climate change, and a decrease in the number of waterfowl hunters. The population is growing so large that it is destroying its own habitat by overgrazing large areas of the fragile arctic tundra, and scientists believe that they are headed for an ecological disaster.
Efforts to decrease their numbers include longer hunting seasons, larger bag limits, and other measures.
The future of Snow Geese is troubled and unclear. Hopefully their numbers can be brought down to a level that is healthy, both for them and their environment.