Birds – Snow Goose

(Chen hyperborea nivalis)


Length—27 to 35 inches.

Male and Female—Entire plumage white, except the ends of wings, which are blackish, and the wing coverts, which are grayish ; bill carmine ; legs dull red. Immature birds have feathers of upper parts grayish with white edges.

Range—North America at large, nesting in the far north (exact sites unknown), and migrating to the United States to pass the winter. More abundant in the interior and on the Pacific slope than on the Atlantic, north of Virginia.

Season—Spring and autumn migrant, April and October ; or winter resident in milder parts of the United States to Cuba.

The dullest imagination cannot but be quickened at the sight of a great flock of these magnificent birds streaming across the blue of an October sky like a trail of fleecy white clouds. Such a sight is rare indeed to people on the Atlantic coast north of the Chesapeake; but in the Mississippi valley during the migrations, on the great plains, and in parts of California all winter, fields are whitened by them as by a sudden fall of snow. Lakes in Minnesota may still be seen reflecting their glistening whiteness as if snow peaks were mirrored there ; and in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, in Oregon and beyond, they are still sufficiently abundant to be hunted on horseback by the indignant farmers, who see no beauty in their plumage to compensate them for their devasted fields of winter wheat that the hungry flocks nip off close to the ground. But like most other choice game birds, the snow goose,, is fast disappearing. Who that knows how rapid this decrease is ever expects to see such flocks of these superb fowl as gladdened the eyes of Lewis and Clarke when they reached the mouth of the Oregon ?

Closely associated with the white-fronted and the Canada geese, the white brant may be named, even when too high up in the sky at the twilight of dawn or evening for us to see its dark-tipped wings and white plumage, by the higher pitched, noisier cackling that distinguishes its voice from that of the laughing goose and the mellow honk of the Canada brant. It migrates by night and day ; observes punctual meal hours like the the rest of its kin ; keeps a sentinel always on guard while it feeds in the grain fields or roots among the rushes on the tide-water flats and grassy patches bordering streams ; circles, gyrates, tumbles, and floats above the water on returning from its feeding grounds. In short, it behaves quite as other geese do when intoxicated with food.

While it is supposed the white brant nests somewhere in the region of the Barren Grounds between the Mackenzie basin and Greenland, the nest and eggs are still unknown in that little-visited country beyond the north wind (hyperboreus), as the bird’s name indicates.

The Lesser Snow Goose (Chen hyperborea), a smaller species, identical in plumage with the preceding, and very like it in habits, nests in Alaska, and wanders down the Pacific coast in winter, eastward to the Mississippi and southward to the Gulf.