By Luke Matthews
There are five goose species that are commonly found in the Sacramento Valley during the winter, but the snow goose is by far the most abundant. In fact, snow geese in California are second only to Northern Pintail in terms of number of migratory waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway. White Goose estimates, which include both Snow and Ross’s Geese, reach nearly 1.5 million birds in California each winter and Snow Geese make up the vast majority of these counts.
Pacific Flyway Snow Geese spend their summers on the northern coasts of Russia and Alaska as well as the Canadian Territories of the Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories. Snow geese form large colonies and their numbers provide relative safety for nesting in the otherwise barren Tundra landscape. After the breeding season has ended and the harsh cold weather start to return to the Tundra, snow geese begin their southward migration to warmer climates.
Snow Goose migrations follow many different routes, but regardless of their path, these geese start to arrive in California in mid-October and their numbers peak later in the winter. While these migratory geese can be found throughout California and even in parts of Mexico their largest concentration are typically found on the wildlife refuges and flooded rice fields of the Sacramento Valley. Here they primarily forage on wetland seeds and rice grains in the fall and then switch to eating tubers and grasses in the late winter and spring. After spending the better part of five months in California Snow Geese flock together and begin their northern migration back to the breeding grounds for another year.
As the weather continues to cool in California and we move towards the holidays Snow Goose numbers will continue to rise. This is the best time to get out into the fields and see epic thunderous flocks of geese!
Luke Matthews is the Wildlife Programs Manager for the California Rice Commission