Geese and ducks are now at the Refuge in huge numbers, so we decided to re-print this article by Helen Petre that originally appeared in the Featherless Flyer, November, 2009, edition.
Great flocks of waterfowl arrive at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge every fall from the Central Fly-way to find food, shelter and protection for the winter. Waterfowl are the Order Anderiformes, Family Anatidae. Geese are the Subfamily Anserinae. Geese are heavier and have longer necks than ducks. Their short legs are farther forward than those of ducks; an adaptation for more efficient grazing since they are terrestrial feeders. Geese have broad, round tipped bills and feed on grains, seeds, aquatic plants and young grasses. They thrive in the grain fields over the winter at Hagerman. The geese migration is best known for the large number of birds migrating and for the loud, noisy communities that spend the winter here.
Male and female geese look identical. They fly with deep, powerful wing beats. In November at Hagerman, listen for the noisy birds migrating and look for the V formations and long undulating lines.
Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) are the most widespread geese in North America with a black head and neck, white breast and chin strap and characteristic honk, bark or cackle. Historically, Hagerman has had more Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) than Canada Geese , but both species spend the entire winter on the Mineral Arm of Lake Texoma, arriving in late fall and staying until March. Hagerman also has some Greater White Fronted Geese (Anser albifrons), a fairly common brownish goose with a white face and orange legs. Some 10,000 geese winter on the refuge feeding on grain and aquatic plants. Rested and refueled, they return north along the Central Fly-way to nest in the Arctic again next summer.
It is the Snow Geese that are the most abundant Hagerman winter residents. Snow Geese are smaller than Canada Geese and migrate in to Hagerman in great numbers along with smaller Ross’s Geese (Chen rossii), the rarest goose in North America. Snow Geese are white with black wing tips and have a heavier bill than Ross’s Geese. Ross’s Geese look like miniature Snow Geese. Look for the smaller birds which lack dark streaks on the bill.
Snow and Canada Geese are common in Oklahoma at Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge, but Ross’s Geese are uncommon north of Texas. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge seems to be the place to go for the winter for Ross’s Geese. They are becoming increasing more common winter residents and mix well with Snow Geese.
Hagerman provides food, rest and shelter for the migrating geese that now depend on the 400 acres of planted wheat for energy to keep warm and build up reserves for the return trip north. Providing food also keeps the birds from foraging in farmer’s fields. Historically, waste grain from agricultural fields was the primary food source for migratory geese, but more efficient harvesting leaves less food available in the field. Without Hagerman management, there would not be enough food energy to sustain the numbers of geese over wintering here in north Texas.
Editor's Note: Second Saturday, December 10, will feature programs on the winter waterfowl at the Refuge. There will be a talk by Dr.Wayne Meyer at 10 am, followed by a field trip along Wildlife Drive aboard TAPS buses, with a guide on each bus. The youth program will also take a tour to see the geese; reservations required for the youth program, call the Refuge, 903 786 2826. Programs are free and open to public, sponsored by the Refuge and the Friends of Hagerman.