Since at least Nov. 15, 2018, a lone snow goose has been keeping company with a small flock of about 21 greater white-fronted geese. They seem to have chosen our area for their winter place of residence. The group is spending its time in wetlands and fields foraging for plant material and resting. It isn’t known whether “Little Orphan Annie” is a female since both genders look the same from afar. Thus, the snow goose in this story will be referred to by a gender neutral word.
According to Crossley (2017), snow geese have very large bills that are designed for digging out plant leaves from the peat in their breeding area on the Arctic tundra. He also argues that they have adapted extremely well to agricultural practices, making them locally common in agricultural areas, salt marshes and other marshlands. This suggests that seeing snow geese in our area is not unusual. However, they are usually seen in very large flocks, sometimes in flocks of 10,000s, but not in this case. We have one lone bird who has found a place within a family of greater white-fronted geese. Crossley’s research confirms that one of the species that the greater white-fronts will hang out with is the snow goose.
Snow geese tend to congregate in close, tight flocks when feeding, while their sentinels keep watch from the edges. Their job is to warn of impending or approaching danger. As expected, “Little Orphan Annie” tries to stay as close to the center of the flock as it can. It doesn’t always happen, but it seems as though it tries.
You can’t miss seeing the snow goose or “little Orphan Annie” as she is called here. It is white, with a heavy body, pink legs, sloping head and a large pink bill. The wing primaries are dark. This is the white morph. There is also a dark color morph, which years ago was referred to as the blue goose. It was thought to be a separate species, but scientists determined many years ago that the snow goose has two color morphs, and was not two separate species.
The greater white-fronted goose is brownish-gray overall. It has a white tip on its tail and a pinkish or orangey bill. Adult birds have a white face and dark bars on the belly. These geese prefer to forage in grain fields, meadows and marshes in winter. They are the same length as the snow goose, at about 2 feet.
Both the snow goose and the greater white-fronted goose are uncommon on the Peninsula in winter. They are both here now. Have you seen them? Look for “Little Orphan Annie” and its family in the meadows, fields and wetlands of the Peninsula.