I took a bright, sunny day off from skiing last week to gaze at the thousands of snow geese that pause in southern Idaho on their migration from Mexico and California to summer range in Canada and farther north. The yearly migration brings these beauties to the wetlands and farm fields scattered across our relatively mild, March landscape. We’re still racking up inches and feet of snow in the mountains, but the lowlands begin to green up in response to longer days of sunshine, providing a perfect layover midway in the journey. This pause also gives their northern destination a bit more time to warm up before the geese arrive, ready to nest on the tundra. Interestingly, the females usually return to their nesting site of the previous years.
These birds are smaller than Canada geese; they are about nine pounds lighter than their Canadian cousins with a wingspan about twenty inches smaller. And they are beautiful, both on the ground where they appear to be totally white with pinkish bills and feet, and even more so in the air where the underside of their wings are tipped in black. Due to a mutation, some snow geese appear slate grey or blue and are referred to a blue geese. There seems to be no discrimination between the whites and blues; they hang out together without quibble or squabble. However young birds tend to choose mates of the same color as their parents, thus a white female from a blue male, will look for a dapper blue as a life partner.
They are very social, mate for life, and maintain family groups and large migration flocks. Strength in numbers. At night they prefer to roost in marshes, ponds, and lakes. In the early morning they gravitate to agricultural fields where they feed on about any vegetation available; grasses, sedges, willows, rushes, horsetails, roots, tubers, seeds, and grains. I wonder how farmers feel about these voracious plant pillagers.
Wildlife enthusiasts, birders, and photogs clog dusty farm roads to gawk and photograph the yearly extravaganza. The birds hang out for three to six weeks, depending on the weather and the available forage.