Goose, Chen caerulescens
The Snow Goose is similar to the smaller and less common Ross's Goose,
from which it is distinguished by its conspicuous dark "grinning patch" on the
side of the bill, and by a more sloping forehead. Snow Geese gather in flocks of
thousands on their wintering grounds in flooded fields in the California Central
Valley, and at Bosque del Apache, New Mexico; their mass takeoffs are a great
spectacle. A photo showing both species can be seen further down the page; its
caption gives more detail on their distinguishing features.
Snow Goose comes in light and and dark color morphs, the latter the much less common form among western birds. The bird above shows the full dark morph plumage, but gradations between the forms are also found. There are two subspecies, Greater and Lesser;
all the birds on this page are Lesser Snow Geese.
A first-cycle bird, with gray-brown feathers where an adult would be pure white, and with bill mottled instead of bright pink.
This picture shows a mixture of Snow and Ross's Geese; when they are seen side by side, the features that distinguish them are readily noticed. All six of the birds still in flight are Snows; most of the birds already in the water are Ross's, a few are Snows. Snow Geese are larger, have proportionally larger bills and flatter heads, and the bills show a prominent dark "grinning patch;" Ross's Geese usually show some gray at the base of the bill. Snows often (as in this picture) have orange-tinged heads, with the usually white feathers stained by iron ore in the mud into which they thrust their heads while feeding. Ross's do not show these iron stains. A larger version of this picture, allowing closer examination of the differences between birds of the two species, can be seen here.
The front two birds above are first-cycle, the other three adults.
Geese flying in front of fall colors at spectacular Bosque del Apache,
New Mexico. Above, three birds; below, a large flock, with some out of
focus Sandhill Cranes grazing in the background.|