Great flocks of waterfowl arrive at Hagerman 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.
|Gaggle of Geese, by Ron M. Varley|
Geese have broad, round tipped bills and feed on grains, seeds, aquatic plants and young grasses. They thrive in the wheat 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. Some 7,500 - 10,000 geese will winter on the refuge feeding on green wheat shoots and aquatic plants. Rested and refueled, they return north along the Central Flyway to nest in the Arctic again next summer.
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, but the Snow Geese are the most abundant Hagerman winter residents. Snow Geese are smaller than Canada Geese and migrate in to Hagerman in great numbers along with even smaller Ross’s Geese (Chen rossii). Hagerman also has some Greater White Fronted Geese (Anser albifrons), brownish geese with white faces and orange legs.
|Greater White-fronted Geese, Ross's Goose, by Carl Hill|
Snow Geese are white with black wing tips. Ross’s Geese, also white, and Snows are difficult to distinguish by size when in a large mixed flock. Distinguishing marks are on the head. Look for the shape of the head and length of the bill. Snow Geese have a long tapered bill, with a dark line between the upper and lower bill, called a “grin patch”, and sloping foreheads. The bill of the Ross’s is shorter or stubbier and lacks the “grin patch”; the head is more round, with a steeper forehead. Ross’s are becoming increasing more common winter residents and mix well with Snow Geese.
|Perfect Two-point, by Bert Garcia|
Hagerman provides food, rest and shelter for the migrating geese that now depend on the 300 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.
ED Note: Adapted from an article prepared by Helen Petre that appeared in the Featherless Flyer, November, 2009.
On December 8, 2012, Dr. Wayne Meyer's Second Saturday topic will be Winter Waterfowl, and Geese, Geese, Geese will be the topic for Second Saturday for Youth. Both programs will include a guided trip along Wildlife Drive aboard TAPS to see the winter waterfowl at the Refuge.
AND! Book a seat for a tour aboard the new C&E Express, on Wednesday and weekends. Call the Refuge for reservations.