Thursday, December 2, 2010

Name That Goose

Ten thousand or so geese spend the winter at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and are a popular sight for visitors to the refuge. Here are two questions frequently asked by visitors, related to the geese, and answers to help identify the various species.

“What do you mean, Snow Goose or Ross’s Goose? They all look the same to me!”

That’s true, until you start looking more closely. Ross’s Geese are smaller than Snow Geese, but the relative size can be hard to distinguish when you are looking at a flock of a thousand or more white geese. Instead, look at the shape of the head and bill.

The Ross’s head is more rounded, with a stubby bill which appears thicker at the base. The border at the base of the bill is straight and vertical.

The head of the Snow Goose is more wedge-shaped, with a longer appearing bill. There is a black line between the upper and lower mandibles, or bill, known as a “grin patch”; the base of the bill is more curved that on the Ross’s.

“Okay, but what are those dark colored geese in with ‘Snow Geese’”?

The dark colored geese with white heads are dark phase Snow Geese. These were once called the Blue Goose. They will not become white over time, but are a variation. Dark phase is rare with Ross’s Geese.

Next time you go out to see the geese, take your binoculars, or borrow some from the Refuge Headquarters, so that you can take a close look at the head and bill shape and you will find that you can identify the different species!

This week's post written by Dick Malnory.

AND - on Saturday, December 11, Dr. Wayne Meyer and Rick Cantu will give a presentation for Second Saturday on Wintering Waterfowl at Hagerman, then accompany you on a guided tour, aboard a TAPS bus, along Wildlife Drive. The bus will hold 29 passengers, so for those who are awaiting their turn, a special slide presentation of pix from the Fall 2010 Photo Safari will be shown and Derek Miller will demo use of the new handheld GPS that can be checked out at Refuge HQ for use on the Refuge.

For more information about activities at the Refuge, please check our website, . The official site for Hagerman NWR is

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