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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Snow Goose - Anser caerulescens

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4N

Agency Status


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Copyright by Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, all rights reserved.
General Description
One of the most abundant species of waterfowl in the world. A medium-sized goose, with a distinctive blackish "grinning patch" or "smile." Total mean length: male 756.2 mm, female 728.9 mm; body mass of male 2,485 g, of female 2,181 g. Plumage dimorphic with light (primarily white) and dark (gray-brown) morphs. Sexes alike though male slightly larger; no seasonal variation. Adult white morph, completely white except for gray primary-coverts, and black primaries; occasionally rusty-orange staining on head and upper neck. Feet and legs dark pink; bill rose-pink with pale-pink or white nail. Adult blue morph, similar soft parts, but body largely dark gray-brown except for white head and foreneck. Upper wing-coverts gray, contrasting with blackish remiges and dark-brown mantle that is veiled with black and tinged blue; hind neck dark gray; rump pale gray; upper tail-coverts gray or white, contrasting with dark-gray tail that is broadly edged and tipped whitish; underparts varying in amount of dark brown and gray (Mowbray et al. 2000).

For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Western Hemisphere Range


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 3335

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


SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding

Indirect Evidence of Breeding

No Evidence of Breeding

WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Regularly Observed

Not Regularly Observed


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

There is a Snow Goose migration pathway in Montana. The Blue Goose migratres to the east of Montana. In spring 1950, 150,000 were seen at Freezeout Lake.

Breeds colonially in subarctic and arctic tundra near the coast on relatively featureless terrain, near ponds, shallow lakes, streams, or islands in braided deltas. Winter range includes coastal areas, estuarine marshes, marine inlets and bays, shallow tidal waters and coastal freshwater and brackish marshes; inland, on wet grasslands, freshwater marshes, coastal prairies and cultivated fields. Migration routes bring them into northern Montana (Freezeout Lake) as a staging area. From staging areas they may follow several routes of migration. During migration Snow Geese use grain fields, lakes, and rivers (Mowbray et al. 2000).

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 (common or occasional) 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 2012, 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 observation 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 listed as associated with 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 listed as 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.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific 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 assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    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.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • 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
Seeds, stems, leaves, rhizomes, stolons, tubers and roots of grasses, sedges, rushes, and other aquatic plants; grains and young leafy stems of various agricultural crops; stems of horsetails; and a variety of berries during winter and migration. During breeding season: leafy parts of grasses, sedges, rushes, willows, and other aquatic plants; rhizomes, tubers, and roots of grasses, rushes, sedges, forbs, and tundra shrubs. Brooding goslings may also feed on fruits and flowers, shoots of horsetails, and Chironomid larvae (Mowbray et al. 2000).

Reproductive Characteristics
Breed in large, often dense, colonies north of the tree line from extreme northeastern Russia along the coast and islands of arctic and subarctic North America to Northwestern Greenland. Lifelong socially monogamous pair bonds. Nests on dry ground, often close to rocks or small shrubs that provide some shelter. Eggs or long oval to subelliptical in shape; creamy white in color but readily staining to dirty gray. Natural clutch size varies from 2 to 6. Breeding season late May through July (Mowbray et al. 2000).

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Citation for data on this website:
Snow Goose — Anser caerulescens.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from