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Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Ross's Goose - Chen rossii

Global Rank: G4
State Rank: S4N

Agency Status


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General Description
Ross's Goose is the smallest of three varieties of white (snow) geese that breed in North America. White with black primaries. Mean length: male 621.3 mm, female 587.6 mm. Mass: male 1484 g, female 1340 g. Species is monochromatic and sexually dimorphic. Plumage is similar to white morph of Greater and Lesser Snow geese. The relatively short neck of Ross's Goose gives it an abbreviated silhouette. Feather of lore meet base of maxilla forming a straight line instead of a forward curved arc typical of Greater and Lesser Snow Geese. Head, usually lacking an orange ferrous stain frequently found on Greater and Lesser Snow Geese, is diminutive and rounded (Ryder and Alisauskas 1995).

Species Range
Montana Range

Click the legend blocks above to view individual ranges.

Western Hemisphere Range


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 225

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density


(direct evidence "B")

(indirect evidence "b")

No evidence of Breeding
(transient "t")

(regular observations "W")

(at least one obs. "w")


(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Most migration occurs through northwest and west-central Montana. Single or small groups of Ross's geese often migrate with Snow Geese. About 20,000 to 40,000 stop at Freezeout Lake Wildlife Management Area each spring and fall; this is approximately 20% of the total world population (Schwitters, personal communication).

Low arctic tundra. Currently about 95% of all Ross's Geese nest in the Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary in central Canadian Arctic. Landscape is dominated by flat plain or postglacial marine emergence. The main wintering area for the species is presently in the Central Valley of California. It seldom associates with the largest snow goose, Greater Snow Goose; but is often found in the company of the intermediate-sized Lesser Snow Goose. During spring and fall migration feeds and roosts in marshes. In northeast California, uses grain fields and wet meadows for foraging (Ryder and Alisauskas 1995).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Strictly vegetarian. Foods taken include grasses, sedges, legumes, and domestic grains (Ryder and Alisauskas 1995).

Reproductive Characteristics
Nests on the ground, preferably in areas with a variety of low vegetation or rock/gravel that provide protections from wind. Eggs are near subelliptical, nonglossy white or light cream colored. Clutch size is 2 to 6 eggs, usually 4. At Arlone and Karrak lakes, laying occurs in first 3 weeks in June, with peak normally in first to second week. Hatching occurs from late June to mid-July, with peak in first to second week in July (Ryder and Alisauskas 1995).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Ryder, J.P. and R.T. Alisauskas. 1995. Ross's Goose, in The Birds of North America, No. 162. A. Poole and F. Gill, eds. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia and The American Ornithologist's Union, Washington, D.C.
    • Schwitters, Michael T. Choteau, MT. (406)466-2236. Email: Personal communication to the Montana Natural Heritage Program.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. 829 pp.
    • Dzubin, A. 1965. A study of migrating RossGeese in western Saskatchewan. Condor 67: 511-534.
    • Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1975. Waterfowl of North America. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
    • Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp.
    • Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2002: Roundup Wetland, Roundup, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.031. February 2003. In 2002 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. II.
    • Lenard, S.J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana Bird Distribution, 6th Edition. Montana Audubon: Helena, MT, 144 pp.
    • Melinchuk, R. and J.P. Ryder. 1980. The distribution, fall migration routes and survival of RossGoose. Wildfowl 31: 161-171.
    • Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
    • Palmer, R.S. 1962. Handbook of North American birds. Volume 1. Loons through flamingos. Yale University Press, New Haven. 567 pp.
    • Ragnal, Wendy, and Troy Brandt, Wetland Services, Helena, MT., 1998, Tucker Crossing Ranch Wetland Mitigation Project for Montana Dept. of Transportation: Highway 93 - Hamilton to Lolo: 1998 - Year Two Monitoring Report - Addendum. In Tucker Crossing Site WS# Lower Clark Fork, Ravalli County. Fin.Dist.1 Admin. Dist.1
    • Ryder, John P., and Ray T. Alisauskas. 1995. Ross's Goose (Chen rossii). Species Account Number 162. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database
    • Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp.
    • Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p.
    • U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages.
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Citation for data on this website:
Ross's Goose — Chen rossii.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on May 25, 2016, from