Bird Watcher's General Store

Snow Geese - 12/12/03


Dear Bird Folks:

This past October, while traveling through Vermont, I came upon a massive flock of Snow Geese eating in a field. It was quite spectacular as the geese covered and swirled around this entire field. (The area was called "Dead Fish State Park" or something like that.) Is there a place around here where I could go to see such a spectacle?

-Steve, Barnstable

Not Really Steve,

Even though Cape Cod has its share of nature's finest spectacles, especially during carnival week in Provincetown, we rarely get to see Snow Geese. Snow Geese, for whatever reason, seem to have no use for what Cape Cod has to offer. Which is odd, considering we have plenty of Canada Geese, tons of other waterfowl and more than our fair share of loons.

Compared to Canada Geese, Snow Geese are odd ducks (sorry). Canada Geese are nearly ubiquitous throughout North America. If you looked at a range map, you would see that there are very few places on this continent where they aren't found. Snow Geese, on the other hand, are far more selective as to where they will hang out. But, as you found out, Steve, when you do find Snow Geese, you will find plenty.

The area that you stumbled upon in Vermont is called Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area. You were close when you called it Dead Fish State Park, you just had most of the words wrong. Up to 20,000 Snow Geese can be found there in October, as they stop for a break on their trip south. Oddly, if you drove around other areas in Vermont, or New England, you would be lucky to find a single Snow Goose, let alone a group of 20,000. Snow Geese, more often than not, like to stay together. And 20,000 Snow Geese is nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands that can be seen on their wintering grounds along the Chesapeake Bay.

Snow Geese are made up of two races. The smaller Lesser Snow Goose, which is mostly found out west. Here in the east, we see the Greater Snow Goose, which, believe it or not, is larger than the Lesser Snow Goose. Funny how that turned out.

For years little was known about the breeding habits of the Greater Snow Goose, for it nested in remote northern Canada, well above the Arctic Circle. In fact, the only other creature known to live near Snow Geese, is Santa Clause. And both the geese and Santa have agreed never to leak the news of each others whereabouts.

With such rapid growth comes the inevitable problems. There are concerns that the geese are causing damage to both their wintering and breeding grounds. The Arctic tundra is very fragile and the short growing season makes regeneration a slow process. The exploding Snow Goose population has created desert-like areas in the once plush tundra. This loss of vegetation could affect other Arctic creatures, particularly Santa's reindeer, which in turn would affect all of us in the worst way.

Problems aside, viewing the massive movements of Snow Geese is truly an amazing sight. Swarms of these bright birds can whiten the sky like a giant snow squall, making for a breathtaking visual. Anyone who has never seen wintering flocks of Snow Geese should put it on their list of things to do. You won't believe what you are seeing.

Unfortunately, except for the occasional stragglers, you won't be seeing many Snow Geese here on Cape Cod. Although no one can be sure why they don't come, my guess is it has to do with the fact that they are Snow Geese and everyone knows that it never snows on Cape Cod.

Artwork by Catherine Clark



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