ind the best places to hunt Snow Geese in Canada. Discover their Physical Description, Range, Habitat, Food Source, Breeding Habits, and Status. 

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) Snow Goose, Anser caerulescens LC

Range - Distribution and Habitat of the Snow Goose:

Snow Goose Breeding Grounds
Snow Geese Range Map of North America 2

Original Source of Map of North America from

Modified by:


When considering the Snow Goose there are two main species to consider, the Greater Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens atlantica) and the Lesser Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens caerulescens).

The Greater Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens atlantica) is a migratory native resident that breeds in Canada’s Eastern High Arctic in the Territory of Nunavut. The largest colony of nesting Greater Snow Geese occurs on Bylot Island in Nunavut.

It begins its fall migration at the end of August and its route takes it to a migratory staging ground in southern Quebec where it will stay anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks. Here, it occupies the marshes and cultivated fields and replace their spent energy. Lately a small portion of the population has been migrating through eastern Ontario and Northern New Brunswick on way to these wintering grounds on the mid-Atlantic seaboard that range from New Jersey to South Carolina of the United States.

The spring migration starts at the end of March and they will spend another 6 to 8 weeks in the same staging area along the St. Lawrence. Around May 15 to 25 they will start to complete their migration and arrive on the breeding grounds in late May and early June.

The Lesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) is also a migratory native resident that breeds in three separate regions of Canada’s Arctic Tundra and winters mainly in the southern United States.

Eastern Arctic

  • This area is made up of Southampton and Baffin Island. As well as the western and southern shores of Hudson Bay.
  • The Hudsons’ bay population usually winters along the coast of Texas and Louisiana.

Central Arctic

  • Is comprised of the mainland from Coppermine to Gjoa Haven along with Western Victoria Island.
  • This population generally winters in Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico.

Western Arctic

  • Banks Island along with the Anderson and Mackenzie River Deltas make up this region.
  • The Western Arctic population finds them in California, New Mexico, and Mexico in the winter.


The Lesser Snow Goose prefers to breed on raised areas of the tundra within 6 miles (10 km) of lakes, ponds, rivers, or the sea. The key ingredients are cover (like tall willows), large body of nearby water (to gather in flocks), and moss and grass to build nests with.

Preferred tundra habitat may consist of cattails, reeds, bulrushes, sedge, panic grass, saltgrass, cordgrass, or wildrice.

The Greater Snow Goose likes to nest on the rocky portions of the tundra that are located on the lea side of a mountain.

During the winter months, both subspecies will gather in large flocks and forage on freshwater or saltwater wetlands, marshes, estuaries, and bays. They will also take the opportunity of feeding on spent grain in agricultural fields during the winter and migration periods.

Description of Snow Goose:

White Snow Goose Blue Snow Goose
 Snow goose white  Snow goose blue
Photo by Sago4 - Flicker Photo by Larry Jordan - Flickr

There are two phases of snow geese, the “snow” phase and the “blue” phase of which only 4% of the overall population are. Also, the blue phase can exist in Leaser and Greater Snow Gees..

For the white phase, the Snow goose is larger than the Ross’s Goose but appearances are much the same in that the snow goose has an all white body and white wings with black wing tips.

The blue phase is also known as the “Blue Goose”. The body and wings of this morph is dark gray while the head, neck, and tail are white.

Both phases have a pink bill and pinky coloured feet,

It has an overall length of 25 to 38 inchs (63.5 to 96.5 cm.), a wingspan of 15.7 to 17.7 inches (40 to 45 cm.), stands 25 to 31 inches (63.7 to 78.7 cm) tall, and a body mass of 4.4 to 6.6 lbs. (2 to 3 kg.).

Except for males being larger than females, both sexes appear to look the same.

Mortality is the greatest amongst young geese and the annual survival rate of an adult is estimated to be around 80%. It is speculated that the life expectancy of a wild Snow Goose could be as high as 24.5 years but the average life is probably closer to that of 10 to 15 years of age.

Diet and Foraging Strategy of the Snow Goose:

Snow Goose Habitat Destruction
 Snow Goose Habitat Destruction
Source: Biodiversity Canada
The above picture is from La Perouse Bay in Manitoba. Note the fenced off compound that geese could not get to. The surrounding area is where the geese grazed. It is a good example of the damage done by Snow Goose from over-feeding.

The Snow Goose is an herbivore that feeds primarily on plant matter consuming grass, sedges, bulbs, leaves, seeds, tubers, and roots. They like to forage on the tidal flats and deltas in areas where the water is about 7.9 inches (20 cm.) deep.

Here you will find they roots in the mud. While on the breeding grounds, the American bulrush is their most common food source. They will also feed on saltgrass, wild millet, spikerush, feathergrass, panic grass, seashore paspalum, delta duckpatato, bulrush, cordgrass, cattail, ryegrass, wild rice, berries, aquatic plants, invertebrates and insects.

Its foraging strategy is to eat the exposed part of the plant. However, the Lesser Snow Goose is creating a problem on the tundra where at first it was simply eating the part of the plant above the surface of the ground and that would regrow. But because of a population explosion, they are overgrazing the tundra and finally the roots are exposed and they eat those. With the roots exposed and the fact that the plant is unable to rejuvenate itself. it kills the plant.

During the migration. you will find them in agricultural fields foraging for wasted oats, corn, soya, and winter wheat. In non agricultural fields they will consume the eat tender shoots of grass, weeds, and clover.

Breeding and Reproduction of the Snow Goose:

Snow geese have a monogamous relationship that is believed to exist for the life of the individual. The pairing of Snow geese starts in the second year of their lives and although they may nest that year. The chances of the nest being successful is low. Success generally does come in its third year.

Mating occurs during the spring migration as they return to the Arctic Tundra. Within 10 days of their arrival in late April to June the females will choose a nesting site that is normally close to where they were born and construct their nest. Sight selection plays an important role in the success of a nest. It has been observed that geese that nest in tall willows have a higher success rate than those that nest in shorter willows or out in the open. This can be important as this goose will not re-nest if the first nest is destroyed.

The nest itself is a simple hollowed out depression on the ground that is outlined with dry vegetation and then lined on the interior will its own down. It will take the female about 12 days to lay her clutch of eggs. The number of eggs laid could be anywhere from 1 to 6 eggs but the norm is 3 to 5. After the last egg is laid she will take about 22 to 25 days to incubate the clutch.

Like other geese, the male does not incubate the nest but he does guard the nest and the female from perceived predators. If the female has to leave the nest she will cover the eggs with down.

The chicks are born in an advanced state of development and they are able to walk, swim, and feed themselves as soon as they dry off. The parents watch over them and lead them to feeding grounds where they will quickly develop. They will fledge in about 38 to 49 days.

The family group will stay together through migration and the juveniles will go their own ways in the spring when they return from the spring migration.

Status of Snow Goose:

The Canada Goose was assessed by BirdLife International in 2015 and was placed on the ICUN’s Red List as a species of Least Concern. Justification for this assessment on the Red List was because it has a very large range and the population appears to be increasing in size.

The statement of “appears to be increasing size” is an understatement because the population is exploding. So much so that the Canadian Government has stated that it is “overabundant” and has actually increased harvest limits on this species.

This overabundance of Snow Geese is of particular concern because they are destroying the habitat in which they live.

By viewing the graphs attached (source: Population Status of Migratory Game Birds in Canada – November 2012) a trend has been occurring with increasing populations of snow geese. In general, it has gone from a few thousand specimens to over one million in the period of 1930 to 1999.

Greater Snow Goose Spring Population Estimates (95% CI)in the St. Lawrence River Valley Number of Nesting Lesser Snow Geese Estimated Through Photo-inventories of Major Breeding Colonies in Canada
 snow goose population estimates  Snow goose nesting estimate
Source: Population Status of Migratory Game Birds in Canada – November 2012


The biggest threat of predation is of the eggs and chicks by arctic foxes, arctic wolves, Gyrfalcons, Gulls, Ravens, and Jaegers (a gull-like bird). The Snowy Owl may take a chick or two but overall, its presence actually aids the Snow Goose. For when the Owl is present, nesting success rates actually rise as the Snow Owl’s presence deters other predators from visiting the nest sites.

Predation of adult Snow Geese mainly comes from man.


Snow Goose

© Smithsonian Institution - Supplier: Robert Costello

 © Smithsonian Institution - Supplier: DC Birds

 © The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors - Source: Animal Diversity Web 

 © NatureServe - Source: NatureServe

 © International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources - Source: IUCN

 © SPIRE project - Source: SPIRE

 © Joao Pedro de Magalhaes - Source: AnAge

Public Domain: Source: US Forest Service Fire Effects Information Service

Public Domain: Source: Hinterland Who’s Who -

Public Domain: Government of Canada:

Public Domain:

Public Domain: Biodiversity Canada -

Public Domain: US Fish and Wildlife Service Waterfowl Status Report 2016 -

Public Domain: Population Status of Migratory Game Birds in Canada – November 2012


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