Monday, March 5, 2012
The Snow Geese Are Back!
They’re back! Thousands of them! Each winter our Northwest Washington community celebrates the arrival of snow geese. The migratory birds have flown about 3,000 miles from Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean, north of Siberia.
Here on Camano Island, and across the Skagit delta, several thousand snow geese migrate annually. At least 35,000 of the waterfowl winter in Washington and in the Frazier Valley near Vancouver, B.C. before returning to Wrangel to lay their eggs.
The large birds, up to 33 inches tall, are usually grayish white with pink bills and feet, and have wingspans of four and a half feet. When traveling distances, they often fly in formation, forming huge V’s in the skies. While feeding, they’ll sometimes fly up in noisy flocks, as shown in the above picture my husband Bruce took.
Huge groups can be seen feeding in farm fields on winter wheat, cover crops, or in pastures. The birds are very vocal and often can be heard more than a mile away.
In spring, as the days grow longer, snow geese migrate back to their Arctic tundra breeding areas. Courtship and pairing take place in their second year, although breeding does not usually start until the third year. Snow geese mate for life. The females are strongly philopatric, meaning they will return to the place they hatched to breed. The birds nest in colonies. The female selects a nest site and builds a shallow depression lined with plant material. The nests may be reused from year to year.
Females incubate three to four eggs for 22 to 25 days while the male guards the nest.. The goslings, born covered with down with eyes open, can scramble out of the nest within hours of hatching and have the ability to swim and forage for food. Both parents protect the young birds from predators such as Arctic fox, snowy owls, hawks and eagles. Parents stay with their young through the first winter. Families travel together on both the southbound and northbound migrations, separating only after they return to the Arctic breeding grounds.
We enjoy watching these beautiful birds during the winter, then say farewell to them in the spring as they fly north in V formations, calling to one another. Or who knows? They may be bidding us farewell. Honk!