The snow goose includes what were once thought to be three separate species: the blue goose, lesser snow goose and greater snow goose, but which are now considered to be the same creature. With a wingspan averaging between 53 and 56 inches, it migrates from its Arctic breeding grounds to southern winter sites in long curved U-shaped lines as high as 1000 feet. Snow geese feed primarily on aquatic plants, grasses and grain. They mate for life, and their nests in the arctic are shallow depressions lined with grass, stems, and down, in which they lay 3 to 8 eggs. The young leave the nest shortly after hatching, but stay with their parents until the following spring.
Once protected, snow geese rebounded a little too well. The more than 4.5 million breeding pairs leave swaths of destruction between their arctic nests and southern wetlands and fields. Vast flocks now overgraze their feeding grounds, resulting in soil erosion, water evaporation, and increased soil salinity. While efforts are being made to save wetlands along their migration route, the fragile tundra recovers much more slowly, if at all.
The primary causes of the population boom appear to be increased agricultural crops on which to feed along their migration routes, warming of arctic regions, and past management, including preserves and protections from hunting.March 29, 2012