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Archive for December 4th, 2009

In Ontario, the term snowbirds is used to describe people, often retired seniors, who avoid the cold northern winter by migrating to the warmer climes of Florida and other sunbelt destinations each year. This weekend, while driving through rural countryside south of Ottawa, we spotted several huge flocks of the real thing: Snow Geese!

Snow geese (Chen coerulescens) are a cosmopolitan species, and the most abundant goose in the world. It is rare to see them in southern Ontario, however, as they breed in the far north and winter in the south. It is during the migration season that they are most likely to be spotted, often feeding on waste grain in agricultural fields while en route to their wintering grounds. The large flock made quite a spectacular sight, blanketing the ground in white.

Snow geese come in two morphs, or color patterns. White adults have black wing tips and pink bills, with a blackish ‘grin’ patch. Their feet and legs are pink. Blue-morph adults have a white head and upper neck while their bodies are dark bluish-grey. They may have white tail feathers and varying amounts of white on their belly.

It is the Lesser Snow Goose (Chen coerulescens coerulescens) that is seen in Ontario. They breed on the coasts of Hudson and James bays and winter in the mid-Atlantic states and south to Mexico. Snow geese form lifelong pairs while on their wintering grounds and can breed into their twenties. On their breeding grounds, the geese form large colonies, with each pair defending a small area around their own nest.

Ross’s geese (Chen rossii) are a less common breed that often share the Snow geese breeding grounds and join them in their migrating flocks. Ross’s geese are very similar to Snow geese and also hybridize with Snow geese, making them difficult to identify.

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