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.


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