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Snow Goose -
Native Species Global Rank
Agency Status USFWS
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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.
Western Hemisphere Range
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding
Indirect Evidence of Breeding
No Evidence of Breeding
WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
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:
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);
Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
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,
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.
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.
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).
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).
Literature Cited Above
Legend: View Online Publication Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages. Mowbray, T.B., F. Cooke, and B. Ganter. 2000. Snow Goose ( Chen caerulescens). Species Account Number 514. 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 Additional References
Legend: View Online Publication Do you know of a citation we're missing? American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p. Cameron, E. S. 1907. The birds of Custer and Dawson counties, Montana. Auk 24(3): 241-270. Confluence Consulting Inc. 2011. Montana Department of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports (various sites). MDT Helena, MT. 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. Ellig, L.J. 1953. Waterfowl relationships to Greenfields Lake, Teton County, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 49 p. Frederick, R.B. and E.E. Klaas. 1982. Resource use and behavior of migrating Snow Geese. J. Wildl. Manage. 46(3): 601-614. Hays, R., R.L. Eng, and C.V. Davis (preparers). 1984. A list of Montana birds. Helena, MT: MT Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. 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. Joslin, Gayle, and Heidi B. Youmans. 1999. Effects of recreation on Rocky Mountain wildlife: a review for Montana. [Montana]: Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society. Korschgen, C.E., and R.B. Dahlgren. 1992. Human disturbances of waterfowl: causes, effects, and management. Ch. 13.2.15 In: Waterfowl Management Handbook. Fish and Wildlife Service Leaflet. 8 p. 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. Lorang, K.D. 1979. Waterfowl and hunter use of Freezeout Lake Game Management Area. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, Montana: Montana State University. 79 p. Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map. Mora, M. A. 1995. Residues and trends of organochloride pesticide and polychlorinated biphenyls in birds from Texas, 1965-88. Technical Report 14. Washington, D.C.: U.S.D.I. National Biological Service. 26 p. MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks. No date. Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area checklist. Oechsli, L.M. 2000. Ex-urban development in the Rocky Mountain West: consequences for native vegetation, wildlife diversity, and land-use planning in Big Sky, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 73 p. 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 Rhodes, O.E., Jr., L.M. Smith and M.H. Smith. 1991. Conservation and genetic resources in waterfowl. Trans. N. Amer. Wildl. & Nat. Res. Conf. 56:462-472. Sater, S. 2022. The insects of Sevenmile Creek, a pictorial guide to their diversity and ecology. Undergraduate Thesis. Helena, MT: Carroll College. 242 p. Saunders, A.A. 1914. The birds of Teton and northern Lewis & Clark counties, Montana. Condor 16:124-144. Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp. Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69. 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. Swan River National Wildlife Refuge. 1982. Birds of the Swan River NWR. Kalispell, MT: NW MT Fish and Wildlife Center pamphlet. Thompson, Richard W., Western Resource Dev. Corp., Boulder, CO., 1996, Wildlife baseline report for the Montana [Montanore] Project, Lincoln and Sanders counties, Montana. In Application for a Hard Rock Operating Permit and Proposed Plan of Operation, Montanore Project, Lincoln and Sanders Counties, Montana. Vol. 5. Stroiazzo, John. Noranda Minerals Corp., Libby, MT. Revised September 1996. 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. Waage, Bruce C., 1991, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: Annual Wildlife Monitoring Report, 1990 Field Season. September 1991. Waage, Bruce C., 1995, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana:1994 Annual Wildlife Monitoring Report; December 1, 1993 - November 30, 1994. February 27, 1995. Waldt, R. 1995. The Pine Butte Swamp Preserve bird list. Choteau, MT: The Nature Conservancy. Updated August 1995. Watts, C.R. and L.C. Eichhorn. 1981. Changes in the birds of central Montana. Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences 40:31-40. Web Search Engines for Articles on "Snow Goose"
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