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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Snow Goose

Chen caerulescens ORDER: ANSERIFORMES FAMILY: ANATIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Watching huge flocks of Snow Geese swirl down from the sky, amid a cacophony of honking, is a little like standing inside a snow globe. These loud, white-and-black geese can cover the ground in a snowy blanket as they eat their way across fallow cornfields or wetlands. Among them, you might see a dark form with a white head—a color variant called the “Blue Goose.” Snow Geese have skyrocketed in numbers and are now among the most abundant waterfowl on the continent.

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Be a Better Birder Tutorial 4

Keys to identification Help

Ducklike
Ducklike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    A medium-sized goose with a hefty bill and long, thick neck. Juveniles are slightly smaller than adults in the fall, and this can be noticeable in flocks during fall and early winter.

  • Color Pattern

    The Snow Goose is a white-bodied goose with black wingtips that are barely visible on the ground but noticeable in flight. The pink bill has a dark line along it, often called a "grinning patch" or "black lips." You may also see dark morph Snow Geese, or "Blue Geese," with a white face, dark brown body, and white under the tail.

  • Behavior

    Snow Geese don’t like to travel without the company of another couple dozen geese and can form flocks of several hundred thousand. Family groups forage together on wintering grounds, digging up roots and tubers from muddy fields and marshes. In flight, they are steady on the wing with even wingbeats.

  • Habitat

    Snow Geese adapted quickly to use agricultural fields, which is one reason their populations are doing so well. During winter and migration, look for them in plowed cornfields or wetlands. Also check lakes, ponds, and marshes where they roost and bathe along shorelines and in open water. Snow Geese breed on Arctic tundra.

Range Map Help

Snow Goose Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • White morph adult

    Snow Goose

    White morph adult
    • Stocky, short-necked goose
    • Large, stubby pink bill with "grin patch"
    • Mostly bright white overall with black wing-tips
    • Pink legs
    • © Ian Davies, Amherst, Massachusetts, March 2011
  • White morph adults

    Snow Goose

    White morph adults
    • Often seen flying in loose formations
    • Short-necked and stocky
    • White morphs distinctive in flight with bright white bodies and black wing-tips
    • © Andy Johnson, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, May 2011
  • White morph flock

    Snow Goose

    White morph flock
    • Often seen in huge flocks
    • Stocky and short-necked
    • Bright white overall with black wing-tips
    • © Christopher L. Wood, New York, January 2007
  • White morph adults

    Snow Goose

    White morph adults
    • Stocky, short-necked geese
    • Bright white with black wing-tips
    • Mud and soil sometimes stain head and face with brownish color
    • Stubby, pink bill with "grin patch"
    • © Christopher L. Wood, December 2010
  • White morph juvenile

    Snow Goose

    White morph juvenile
    • Large, stocky goose
    • Mostly white with some dusky gray patches on juveniles
    • Black wing-tips
    • "Grin patch" on bill
    • © Michael Fannon, Bombay Hook NWR, Delaware, December 2009
  • White morph juvenile

    Snow Goose

    White morph juvenile
    • Large, stocky goose
    • Mostly white
    • Juveniles are mostly dusky gray, showing more and more bright white as they molt into adult plumage
    • Distinctive "grin patch" on bill
    • © jon, Fir Island Farms, Washington, November 2011
  • White morph immature

    Snow Goose

    White morph immature
    • Stocky, short-necked goose
    • Bright white overall, with some dusky gray juvenile plumage remaining
    • Black wing-tips
    • Pink bill with "grin patch"
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Champaign Co., Illinois, March 2005
  • White morph immature

    Snow Goose

    White morph immature
    • Large, stocky goose
    • Distinctive in flight with bright white body and black wing-tips
    • Juvenile white morphs show dusky gray on head and neck
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Salton Sea, California, February 2011
  • White morph flock

    Snow Goose

    White morph flock
    • Large, stocky geese
    • Short-necked
    • Often seen in huge flocks
    • Mostly bright white, sometimes with mud/soil stains on face
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Delaware, December 2006
  • Blue morph adults in white morph flock

    Snow Goose

    Blue morph adults in white morph flock
    • Blue morph birds are usually less numerous than white morphs
    • Often in large flocks
    • Stocky, short-necked goose
    • Stubby, pink bill
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Delaware, December 2006
  • Intermediate and white morph adults

    Snow Goose

    Intermediate and white morph adults
    • Stocky, short-necked geese
    • White morphs show bright white body and black wing-tips in flight
    • Intermediate morphs show dark chest/upper-parts of blue morph, white belly of white morph
    • © Andy Johnson, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, May 2011
  • White morph adult and blue morph immature

    Snow Goose

    White morph adult and blue morph immature
    • Stocky, short-necked geese
    • White adults are bright, snowy white overall with pink bills
    • Blue juveniles are mostly dark gray with head/neck becoming paler
    • Distinctive "grin patch" on bills
    • © jon, Fir Island, Washington, April 2012
  • Blue morph adult

    Snow Goose

    Blue morph adult
    • Stocky, short-necked goose
    • Stubby pink bill with "grin patch"
    • Blue morphs mostly dark gray overall with white heads
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Ithaca, New York, August 2009
  • Blue morph adults

    Snow Goose

    Blue morph adults
    • Large, stocky, short-necked geese
    • Blue adults are slaty blue-gray overall with white heads/necks
    • Pink bills
    • © Christopher L. Wood, Minnesota, October 2004
  • Blue morph adult

    Snow Goose

    Blue morph adult
    • Large, heavy-bodied goose
    • Short-necked, with stubby, pink bill and "grin patch"
    • Blue morphs are dark, slaty blue/gray overall with white heads
    • Pink legs
    • © Christopher L. Wood, New Hampshire, November 2004
  • Blue morph immatures

    Snow Goose

    Blue morph immatures
    • Large, heavy-bodied goose
    • Blue morph juveniles are mostly dark gray overall
    • Grin patch on bills
    • Developing white heads and necks
    • © B.N. Singh, Chincoteague NWR, Virginia, December 2011

Similar Species

  • White morph adult

    Ross's Goose

    White morph adult
    • Small, stocky goose
    • Very small, stubby pink bill with little or no "grin patch" visible
    • Daintier and shorter-necked than Snow Goose
    • © Ganesh Jayaraman, Mountain View, California, December 2009
  • White morph adults

    Ross's Goose

    White morph adults
    • Small and stocky
    • Daintier than Snow Goose
    • Tiny, stubby bills, lacking the "grin patch" of a Snow Goose
    • © Stephen Ramirez, Texas, December 2009
  • Blue morph adult

    Ross's Goose

    Blue morph adult
    • Smaller and daintier than Snow Goose
    • Smaller, stubbier bill with little or no "grin patch"
    • Blue morph of Ross's Goose is rare
    • © Stephen Parsons, Oregon, April 2011
  • Adult

    Mute Swan

    Adult
    • Very large, with much longer neck than Snow Goose
    • Long, flattened orange bill with black mask at base
    • Solid white overall, with no black wing-tips
    • © Gary Tyson, Cape May, New Jersey, April 2006
  • Adults

    Mute Swan

    Adults
    • Much larger than Snow Goose
    • Very long neck
    • Wings solid white with no black tips
    • Bright orange bill and black mask
    • © Thomas Gorman, Paulinskill NWR, New Jersey, January 2012
  • Juvenile

    Mute Swan

    Juvenile
    • Superficially similar to juvenile Snow Goose, but much larger
    • Very long, curving neck
    • Long, sloping bill
    • Black mask at base of bill
    • © Billy and Fred, DeKorte Park, New Jersey, December 2009
  • Adults

    Trumpeter Swan

    Adults
    • Huge swan, much larger than Snow Goose
    • Long, curving neck
    • Elongated, downward-sloping black bill
    • Bright, solid white overall
    • © Bill Thompson, Anchorage, Alaska, October 2010

Similar Species

Ross’s Goose looks like a miniature, small-billed version of a Snow Goose. Look carefully for them, as huge flocks of Snow Geese often contain a few Ross's Geese. Ross’s Goose has a petite rounded head and a stout, shorter bill without the dark “grinning patch.” They also have a dainty personality, carefully plucking grass rather than rooting in mud, so they lack the rusty staining you often see on Snow Goose faces. Tundra Swan, Trumpeter Swan, and Mute Swan are much larger, with longer necks, and lack the Snow Goose's black wingtips. Trumpeter Swans and Tundra Swans have dark bills and feet and Mute Swan has a bulbous orange bill. You may also see all-white domestic geese and ducks, but these typically have orange bills and feet, lack the black wing feathers, and have shape differences such as heavy bottoms and an ungainly waddle.

Find This Bird

Look for Snow Geese in open fields and bodies of water in their wintering grounds across the United States, or passing high overhead during migration. During spring and fall migration, the geese will stop over in open habitats along the four major North American flyways. If the geese are around, they’ll be hard to miss: a cacophony of honks accompanying a huge flock either on the ground or in the air.

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