This website will be removed on December 31st, 2017.
If you are the site owner, please visit the Server Decommissioning
page for more details.
Snow geese have reproductive and behavioral characteristics that help ensure
successful reproduction in the unpredictable, rigorous and short arctic
They are long lived, and can successfully reproduce to 20 years of age and
beyond. The maximum lifespan of geese in the wild is not readily measured
because they can outlive legbands used to identify individual birds.
Snow geese generally mate for life. However, if one bird dies the other
usually finds a new mate relatively quickly. Like other goose species,
snow geese do not breed until they are at least two years old.
A female snow goose lays 4-5 eggs. Because of the short nesting season
they seldom, if ever, renest if their first clutch is destroyed. Goslings
remain with the adults during full migration, winter and the spring return
to the breeding grounds, before the family bond is broken.
Like all waterfowl, snow geese undergo a feather molt during the brood rearing
During molt they are flightless for about 30 days, and are readily captured
for banding and marking.
Because of the short arctic growing season, snow geese begin nesting activities
soon after arriving on the breeding grounds. Snow and extended winter weather
can delay or prevent nesting. In some years, snow geese do not nest at
all - a situation commonly called a "bust" in production.
Arctic nesting geese have adapted to this short nesting period by carrying
with them the energy needed to produce and incubate eggs. This energy,
in the form of body fat, is critical to successful reproduction.
Research has shown that fat accumulation begins in early spring when geese
reach the corn belt of Iowa and Nebraska, and continues as they migrate
northward through the Dakotas, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Snow geese remain
on the prairies until late April or early May and then make a non-stop flight
across the boreal forest areas of Canada to Hudson Bay and areas north.
Snow geese may gain as much as two pounds, including a pound of fat, during
the three-month spring migration. These nutrients are carried to the arctic
breeding grounds and used for sustenance, egg production and incubation.
They need to have these reserves with them, because there is little food
available on the nesting ground when they arrive.
Female snow geese exhibit strong homing behavior and return to nest in the
area where they were raised. They quickly sever family bonds and begin
breeding activities as soon as the ground begins to clear of snow cover.
Pairs stake out claims within the colony: older more experienced pairs
often claim the best sites near the center of the colony. Females that
nested previously often return to the same nest site.
Snow goose nest success is generally high - more than 90 percent of nests
produce at least one gosling. Predation or abandonment is the principal
cause of nest failure of loss of eggs. Predators include gulls, arctic
and red fox, wolves, polar bear, sandhill cranes, parasitic jaegers and
ravens. Caribou also trample nests and eggs, and eat shells.
Once all goslings are hatched, dried and active, the pair leads its brood
away from the nest to seek food. Abundant, high quality grass and sedge
forage is needed for adults to molt and rebuild body conditioning after
breeding, and for goslings to grow so they can fly before the short arctic
summer ends and winter sets in.
Return to Snow Goose Crisis
Continue to Next Segment