Canada geese are not the only geese out there. Birders have carefully checked the usual large flocks of these birds for rare species. This seems to be the year of those unusual sightings. First, they were seen near Buffalo. Now, some have been in Dunkirk Harbor.
The greater white-fronted goose breeds on the Siberian tundra and in Greenland. Its territory is one of the largest of any bird in the world. In the United States, you would mostly see it west of the Mississippi River where it feeds in the wetlands and croplands.
Geese, in general, pair up for years. The white-fronted geese seem to stay together longer than most of the other geese. Some of the young hang out with the parents into the next breeding year. They may even stay with their parents all their lives.
The white snow goose with pink legs and bill is way off the beaten path. Normally, the closest it gets to us is on the Atlantic coast from Pennsylvania to North Carolina.
Photo by Jim Pawlicki
The greater white-fronted goose that was reported here might have been the one that breeds in Greenland. It usually winters in Ireland and Scotland. However, it has shown up occasionally on the North American east coast. It is considered rare in the Buffalo area.
The second rare goose seen this winter is the snow goose. Its name derives from its white plumage.This bird, like people, spends winters in the south. It feeds on grasses and grains. Look for it in marshes, bays, and fields near the coast. Then, at the end of the winter, flocks will fly in a "u" formation back to the Arctic tundra to mate. Like swans, the snow goose stays with one mate for life.
The good news concerning the snow goose is that its population is increasing. That's very possibly due to the warming weather in the bird's breeding area in the arctic.
The Ross' Goose is about the size of a mallard duck. It mostly lives in the Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary in western Canada. A smaller number can be found near Hudson Bay and on a river delta of Southampton Island.
Between October and March, huge flocks are seen from California to the Texas coast, Louisiana and Mexico. They will mix with snow and white-fronted geese. Since the 1950s, it has been expanding eastward where more hybridization with the snow goose is occurring.
Finally, let's learn about the cackling goose. It is very similar to the Canada goose. It has a black head and long black neck. Both have white chinstraps. They both have light tan breasts and white undertails. The cackling has a small, triangular bill. It is 21.7 to 29.5 inches long, whereas the Canada is a smidgeon bigger - 25 to 45 inches.
This bird winters on our west coast and in Mexico. It breeds in the Canada's tundra. Most cackling geese nest in coastal marshes, along ponds and streams.
Let's learn about a goose's behavior. It mostly eats grasses and grains, but sometimes berries. Masses of them can be seen in farmers' fields. In the water, it will tip up its tail to reach vegetation under the water. It is a strong flyer and swimmer. It can even dive a short distance to avoid danger. Sleeping is done while it sits, stands on one leg, or floats in water. When it migrates, it mostly roosts while floating on water at night.
The eggs and chicks are in danger of arctic and red foxes, glaucous and herring gulls, parasitic jaegers, caribou, polar and black bears, gray wolves, common ravens, long-tailed jaegers, and snowy owls. The adults are also in danger of the foxes, wolves, bears, and bald and golden eagles.
The good news concerning the snow goose is that its population is increasing. That's very possibly due to the warming weather in the bird's breeding area in the arctic. It does have a problem of eating lead shot when feeding. That problem could be lowered by using copper ammunition instead of the lead.
In summary, be careful in assuming that a goose is a Canada.
All of these rare birds have been seen in Upper New York state. I saw a juvenile snow goose on VanBuren Road just south of Dunkirk harbor. That was very timely for my article.