Thursday, November 28, 2013

Name That Goose!

Lift-off at Hagerman NWR, by Lee Hatfield
Geese have been arriving over the past few weeks to spend the winter at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and the huge flock, estimated this week at 10,000, is a popular sight for visitors there.   Here are two questions frequently asked, related to the geese, and answers to help identify the various species.

1.  “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.  

Ross's Goose, by Rick Cantu
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.

Here are some memory cues – Snow Goose – sloping forehead; Ross’s Goose – round head.

Snow Geese, Blue Phase on left, by Rick Cantu
2.   “Okay, but what are those dark colored geese in with the ‘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.

A website that is helpful in learning these distinctions is

You may also see a small flock of grayish-brown geese with white foreheads alongside the white Snow and Ross’s geese; these would be the Greater White-fronted Geese shown below.

Photo by Dick Malnory
Next time you go out to see the geese, take your binoculars, or borrow some from the Visitor Center, 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!

The winter waterfowl at the Refuge will be the topic for both Youth FIRST, on December 7, and Second Saturday, on December 14, when Dr.  Wayne Meyer will give a presentation.  A guided tour, aboard a TAPS bus, along Wildlife Drive will be offered on both dates as part of the program.

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

This post includes information from the post of December 2, 2010, by Dick Malnory.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Turkey Time

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin nominated the turkey to be the national bird for the United States of America?

And that President Abraham Lincoln started the tradition of a White House pardon for a turkey on Thanksgiving – the impetus? His son Tad made friends with the turkey that was to be on the Thanksgiving menu (later named Jack!)

The domestic turkey we are familiar with is descended from a subspecies that is now extinct.  There are five subspecies of the wild turkey: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande (shown below), Merriam’s and Gould’s.

Wild Turkey at HNWR, by Jim Gay
The wild turkeys  at Hagerman NWR are Rio Grande (named for the general area in which they are found –the central plains states) and there are a number of flocks at the Refuge.  But, this has not always been the case. By the late 1800’s, turkeys throughout Texas had been hunted to very low numbers. Then hunters stepped in to support conservation and restoration, and now thanks to individuals, to legislation and to organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation, hunting regulations and better habitat management practices have allowed turkey populations to steadily increase in most areas.    Now more than seven million wild turkeys roam America’s woodlands. 

 Several flocks of 100+ turkeys use habitat on and adjacent to the Refuge including brushy areas next to streams and the lake, or mixed oak forests near the creeks. At Hagerman, turkeys are sometimes visible along field edges or roadsides with trees and like to forage for insects and seeds in wooded areas.

An adult female turkey is called a hen. Hens generally weigh between 8 and 11 pounds. Female turkeys less than one year old are called a jenny. Like many other birds, the females’ feathers are more subdued in color than the males’, allowing them to better blend in with their surroundings.

Female turkeys weigh about 10 pounds while males tip the scales at closer to 20.   An adult male turkey is called a gobbler. The name comes from the sound they make in spring, to attract the hens during the mating season. Their iridescent feathers have a green-coppery sheen to them with the tips of the tail and lower back feathers being light tan. Male turkeys are known for their “beards” which are actually bristly tassels rather than feathers and grow for life instead of molting.  A male under one year in age is called a jake.

Wild turkeys can run or fly. They can run up to 19 mph for short distances. They usually fly only short distances but at speeds of  up to 55 mph. They prefer the borders between woodlands and field, which provide low cover for nesting, trees for roosting and for their food source.  Wild turkeys prefer to nest in grass or brush at least 18 inches tall and usually lay 10-11 eggs that hatch in 28 days.  The young turkeys (poults) are up and running behind the hen within the first 24 hours.   Generally ground dwellers, there is a high mortality rate on poults by critters including bobcats, foxes, snakes, raccoons, and hogs, so safe night roosting sites are critical to turkey survival. Turkeys typically seek trees that are 40 feet or taller and tend to roost in groups.

Young turkeys favor insects for their diet. As they mature, mast such as acorns, pecans and berries, along with various seeds and grains, becomes the primary diet for the wild turkey.

Although you may see turkeys any time of year, spring is an especially good time to look for these unique birds. Males can often be seen strutting around and fanning their tail feathers in hopes of impressing the ladies. When you visit Hagerman, keep an eye out for signs of wild turkeys by looking for scratching in the dirt or leaves, spotting their large three-toed foot print, or listen for gobbling sounds coming from the woods.

Wild turkeys are not migratory and often live out their life span within five miles of their hatching site.

Happy Turkey Day!

Material in this post has been combined from previously published posts, "Let's Talk Turkey",  by Refuge Manager Kathy Whaley (11-24-2009) and "Turkey Facts from the   National Wild Turkey Federation", (11-23-11).


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Geese at Hagerman NWR

From Jack Chiles' weekly bird census at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge:

Last year on November 6, 2012

Greater White-fronted Goose  115; Snow Goose  200; Ross's Goose  150

And - one year later, on November 5, 2013

Greater White-fronted Goose  50; Snow Goose  150; Ross's Goose  18

Last year, on November 13, 2012

Greater White-fronted Goose  280; Snow Goose  2300; Ross's Goose  2200; Cackling Goose  10;
Canada Goose  2

And, this week, on November 12, 2013

Greater White-fronted Goose  122; Snow Goose  112; Ross's Goose  100; Snow/Ross's Goose  2300;
Canada Goose  2

Finally, the third week of November, last year, on November 20, 2012

Greater White-fronted Goose  65; Snow/Ross's Goose  6000

Geese at HNWR, by Steve Frederickson

The numbers tell the story of what to expect at Hagerman NWR  in late fall.  Now for a few goose facts:

Geese – along with ducks and more – are called waterfowl in the U.S., and wildfowl in the UK, according to The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior.  They belong to the family of Anatidae, which encompasses many and varied species.  Geese are in the subfamily Ansinerae, along with swans.

There are six species of geese that breed in North America.  Summer habitat for the Snow Goose, some Canada Geese, and the Greater-White-fronted Goose is the far–northern .tundra, from the High Arctic to the sub-Arctic.  The smaller Ross’s Goose, which breeds in the Central Arctic, is also seen along with the Snow Geese at the Refuge.

Geese are herbivores, feeding on wetland plants and agricultural crops.  The Refuge prepares for the winter influx of geese by planting several hundred acres of wheat each October, for green browse. According to the Sibley Guide, Canada Geese have a bill that is suitable for clipping grasses and seeds, while the bill of the Snow Goose is for digging and cutting roots and tubers of marsh plants.

When Hagerman and Tishomingo national wildlife refuges were established, in 1946, one news article reported the hope that the new refuges would “hold” the migrating waterfowl and keep them off the Gulf Coast rice crops.
Along with swans and whistling ducks, geese have life-long pair bonds.

Snow Geese and Canada Geese may lay eggs in the nests of other geese or even those of other waterfowl species.  Snow Geese lay two – six eggs, with the female building and tending the nest, guarded by the male.  Families remain together during the young’s first winter.

Nests are built near water; then geese families move inland where grasses are more abundant once the chicks hatch.

High altitude migration, at 1000 – 5000 feet is common for geese and Sibley reports sightings of Snow Geese at 20,000 feet in altitude. Snow Geese migrate both by day and by night.

Snow Geese may be white or grayish brown with white heads (the Blue Goose), they are both the same species.

Hunting of Snow Geese was banned in the eastern US when their numbers declined dangerously, in the early 1900’s; now the number has rebounded and they are said to be in danger of overpopulating their habitat.

The oldest Snow Goose on record was age 27-1/2.

Those who enjoy the thrill of hearing the geese can listen to various calls on this site by All About Birds.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

D is for Deer

Does at HNWR, by Dana Handy

Thanks to Google and the multitude of white-tailed deer sites on the Internet, we were able to compile a Deer Alphabet this week.

A is for antler – and annual – male deer have antlers which are shed annually (only reindeer and caribou females have antlers)

B is for buck – the adult male deer

C is for coat – for the white-tail deer, the species found at Hagerman NWR, the coats are reddish in summer and gray (and heavier) in winter

D is for doe – the adult female deer

E is for ears which the white-tail can rotate 180 degrees

F is for fawn - the young deer stay with their mothers for about two years

G is for grazing – deer eat only plant life - grasses, leaves, twigs, acorns, etc.

H is for hooves – deer are Artiodactyls; they have hooves and an even number of toes.

I is for inches –  racks, or the antlers,  are measured in inches

J is for jumping – deer can leap a barrier up to 10’ high and broad jump up to 30’

K is for kicking very hard with their legs in fight situations

L is for listening – deer have keen ears and can pick up high frequency sounds

M is for [ruminant] mammals, in the family Cervidae

N is for nose – the deer nose is about 100 times more sensitive than the human nose

O is for odor - deer can smell human scent on underbrush for days after the person leaves the area

P is for points on the antlers, also called tines

Q is for quick – deer can sprint up to 30 mph

R is for rut – the mating season which lasts from about October to January

S is for scent glands in the feet and legs of the deer which help communicate with other deer along a trail

T is for territory - a buck will mark his territory by stomping on the ground to make "scrapes" on the land and rubbing his antlers on trees ("buck rub")

U is for United States – white-tailed deer are native to much of the U.S.

V is for vision – with eyes on the sides of their head, deer have a 310 degree view

W is for the white of the White-tailed deer tail, which the deer can raise to signal danger

X is for Deer Crossing (bet you thought we would not get this one!) – deer crossings are hazardous for both deer and drivers - it is estimated that 1.5 million cars collide with deer annually

Y is for young deer – their coat is reddish brown with white spots, for camouflage, which fade as the first winter coat grows

Z is for making deer z’s – often bedding by laying on their right side and facing downwind, in order to  detect danger approaching from any direction