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SNOW GOOSE POPULATIONS


All snow geese nest in the arctic, principally in North America. They migrate to wintering grounds in the southern United States and Mexico. Two snow goose subspecies are known: the greater snow goose weighs from six to almost eight pounds; the lesser snow goose weighs from five to almost seven pounds. Ross' geese, another arctic nesting North American species, are similar to snow geese but much smaller - less than four pounds.

Most snow geese and Ross' geese are white with black wing tips. Lesser snow geese occur in two color phases - white and "blue." White and blue-phase birds are simply genetic variations within the same species, just like yellow and black Labrador retrievers. Greater snows occur only in the white phase.

Five distinct populations of snow geese have been identified for management purposes: Mid-Continent, Greater Snow Goose, West Central Flyway, Western Canadian Arctic, and Wrangel Island populations. Management of each population is guided by plans created through cooperative efforts of the flyway councils, representing states, provinces, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service. Management plans provide guidelines for population size, distribution and use (hunting, viewing, photography, etc.).

The birds that migrate through North Dakota are part of the Mid-Continent Population. These geese nest from the southern shores of Baffin Island, to South Hampton Island, along the western portions of Hudson By and west across the northern coast and islands of Canada to about the 100th meridian. They migrate south along Hudson Bay and stage in the prairie regions of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Dakotas each fall. Wintering grounds are principally in Texas, Louisiana, and eastern Mexico, but some birds winter as far north as Kansas. Blue geese are found only in the Mid-Continent Population.

The West Central Flyway and Western Canadian Arctic populations share the same nesting grounds. These birds winter from Colorado and California in the north, south to Mexico. The Wrangel Island Population nests off the northeast coast of Siberia, Russia and winters in Oregon and northern California. The Greater Snow Goose Population nests in extreme northeastern North America, on the northern parts of Baffin Island and other areas. They migrate south to stage on the St. Lawrence River and winter in Atlantic Flyway states.

Ross' geese are found in both the Mid-Continent and the two western snow goose populations.

All snow geese that fly through North Dakota each spring and fall are part of the Mid-Continent Populations. Much of our discussion will concentrate on these birds.

However, much of what follows also applied to other snow goose populations. Only the Wrangel Island birds are not increasing steadily.

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