Canada Geese are common in our area and most are considered permanent residents. There will also be flocks of migrating geese that spend their winter in our area. The majority of these migrating geese will be Canada Geese but there are other geese species that are less frequently seen. The Spring Creek Marina, South Fork State Recreation Area and Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge are all possible locations to see geese. Geese are also found in Elko on the Golf Course and along the Humboldt River when the water is open. The pictures accompanying this article were taken at the Spring Creek Marina.
The more common Canada Goose is a big waterbird (length: 29.9-43.3 in. wingspan: 50 – 66.9 in.) with a long neck, large body, large webbed feet and a wide, flat bill. Canada Geese eat grain from fields, graze on grass and dabble in shallow water by tipping forward and extending their necks underwater. Most of the year they are found in large flocks and many of the birds may be related to one another. They mate for life and pairs remain together throughout the year. As long as there is some open water and available food resources they can remain in areas where temperatures are extremely cold.
The Snow Goose is a medium-sized goose (length: 27.2-32.7 in. wingspan: 54.3 in) with a hefty bill and long, thick neck. It is a white-bodied goose with black wingtips that are barely visible on the ground but noticeable in flight. The pink bill has a dark line along it, often called a “grinning patch” or “black lips.” Juveniles are slightly smaller than adults. All Snow Geese migrate, making long flights broken up by long stopovers in staging areas. They fly quickly and at high altitudes in narrow flight lanes, heading more or less due south from the breeding grounds on the arctic tundra to a wintering site at roughly the same longitude. They prefer the protection of being with other geese. Groups of Snow Geese numbering in the thousands can be found in other wintering areas. They are not common in our area and it is typical for less than a dozen birds to be found here with Canada Geese flocks.
Snow Geese eat grasses, sedges, rushes, forbs, horsetails, shrubs, and willows. They will consume nearly any part of a plant—including seeds, stems, leaves, tubers, and roots—either by grazing, shearing plants off at ground level, or ripping entire stems from the ground. They also mate for life.
The less common Greater White-fronted Goose is a medium-sized (length: 25.2-31.9 in. wingspan: 53.1 in), heavy-bodied goose with a small bill, thick orange legs, and a short neck. Adults are mostly brown with white feathering around the base of a pinkish-orange bill. Black barring marks the belly and the undertail is white. They often hang out in groups with Snow and Canada Geese, where their brown plumage and medium size should help separate them. They breed in the arctic tundra but winter further south mainly along the west coast, gulf coast and Mexico. During the winter they eat seeds, tubers and grasses. Greater White-fronted Geese form long-term pair bonds and stay together year-round. Pairs are often accompanied by their young for the first year or more.
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