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January 4, 2013

Get used to seeing geese

The Daily Star

---- — I was in Jefferson the other day and watched flock after flock of snow geese flying high above, heading on a direct line south. Maybe that should have been my first clue that winter is actually here.

Anyway, my first thought was that maybe snow geese migrate later than Canadian geese, since they nest farther north. So I decided to research this idea. I couldn’t find anything to substantiate that thought, so I called a friend of mine who has hunted more waterfowl than anyone I know.

John has leased hunting rights in the northern swamps along the St. Lawrence and has hunted ducks and geese all the way to Chesapeake Bay. He told me that all geese migrate south at about the same time. Many of the huge flocks we see are snows while others are Canadians. Most of us are unable to tell the difference from a distance.

Snow geese and blue geese are the same bird, only in a different color phase. Both have pink legs, feet and bills.

The snow goose has a stark-white body with black wingtips. The pink bill also has a black “grin patch,” or black lips. Without it, the bird is a Ross’s goose, which is just a little smaller.

The blue goose is a dark color morph of the snow goose. It has a white head and bluish-gray body. Approximately one out of every 100 snow geese are blue phase and for some reason, they usually stick together.

Actually, the blue goose is quite prejudice. Studies show they normally mate only with another blue goose. If they mate with a snow goose, chances are their parents were mixed as well. Like other geese, snow and blue geese usually mate for life.

There are greater and lesser snow geese, too. Only the greater snow goose flies down the Atlantic flyway, which includes this area.

Snow geese nest in the very far north along the Arctic Ocean. Back in the early 1900s, the snow goose was quickly becoming an endangered species. Through proper conservation, though, their numbers have increased to a critical point today.

Because they mate in the far, frigid northern parts of Canada and the Arctic, food grows very slowly. Today, these birds are actually eating themselves out of house and home.

To protect the overfeeding on the mosses and lichens in the cold arctic region, hunting seasons have been lengthened and bag limits have increased in many areas — to as many as 25 birds a day. These birds have grown in numbers so much that they are literally destroying their own habitat.

Many snows have a rusty color on their chests. This is caused by mineral deposits from feeding and nesting grounds clear across the Arctic Ocean in Russia’s Siberia.

As much as I have observed wildlife throughout my lifetime, I have seen very few snow geese. Until last Friday, it’s been probably 10 years since I have seen these beautiful birds. Back then, I was driving up Route 7 near Afton and saw literally thousands of snows in the harvested corn fields along the river.

But like the Canadian goose, we will be seeing far more of them in the future. We will find that like the Canadians, snow geese will soon live here, too. There’s no need to fly to the Carolinas for the winter when there’s plenty of food and mild enough weather right here in central New York.

Great! Now there will be more geese pooping on the golf course and around my pond!

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at