Index of Species Information

WILDLIFE SPECIES:  Chen caerulescens


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Chen caerulescens
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Snyder, S. A. 1993. Chen caerulescens. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. ABBREVIATION : CHCA COMMON NAMES : snow goose greater snow goose lesser snow goose blue goose TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for the snow goose is Chen caerulescens (Linnaeus) [20]. The names C. caerulescens and Anser caerulescens are both found in current scientific literature [7,13,16]. There are two races of snow goose: C. caerulescens caerulescens (lesser snow goose) and C. caerulescens atlanticus (greater snow goose) . The latter tends to have a larger bill and heavier body than the former [16,19]. ORDER : Anseriformes CLASS : Bird FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : The snow goose has one of the largest populations of any goose in the world, ranking behind only the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) in population size and harvest numbers [15].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Chen caerulescens
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Snow geese breed in the Arctic tundra region of North America, including the Arctic archipelago, and winter in the southern United States (primarily Texas and Louisiana) and Mexico. They also winter along the Atlantic seaboard from Virginia south to North Carolina, and in California, New Mexico, and Arizona [16]. In recent years snow geese have expanded their wintering range into Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas, presumably due to the amount of agricultural land [1]. Occasionally snow geese are found in Hawaii [16]. Only those areas where snow geese winter and breed have been included in the States list , although they are temporarily found in all states along the Atlantic, Central, and Pacific Flyways during migration from August through November and February through March [15,16]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie FRES41 Wet grasslands FRES42 Annual grasslands FRES44 Alpine STATES :

BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 1 Northern Pacific Border 3 Southern Pacific Border 4 Sierra Mountains 5 Columbia Plateau 6 Upper Basin and Range 7 Lower Basin and Range 8 Northern Rocky Mountains 9 Middle Rocky Mountains 10 Wyoming Basin 11 Southern Rocky Mountains 12 Colorado Plateau 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont 14 Great Plains 16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K048 California steppe K049 Tule marshes K052 Alpine meadows and barren K070 Sandsage - bluestem prairie K072 Sea oats prairie K073 Northern cordgrass prairie K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie K077 Bluestem - sacahuista prairie K078 Southern cordgrass prairie K113 Southern floodplain forest K114 Pocosin SAF COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY PLANT COMMUNITIES : Snow geese inhabit tundra communities and wetlands composed of cattail (Typha spp.), reed (Phragmites spp.), bulrush (Scirpus spp.), sedge (Carex spp.), panic grass (Panicum spp.), saltgrass (Distichlis spp.), cordgrass (Spartina spp.), and wildrice (Zizaniopsis spp.) [13].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Chen caerulescens
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Pair Formation- second winter of life; usually monogamous Nesting- June, usually in large colonies Clutch- three to four eggs over a 12-day period Incubation- 22 days Fledge- 42 days Maturity- 2 years but often not successful nesters until 3 years [7,13,16] PREFERRED HABITAT : Snow geese prefer coastal lagoons and marshes, agricultural land and adjacent prairies, tidal flats, estuaries, and tundra areas [15]. They roost in large flocks on dry, flat land on wintering grounds and feed on inland lakes and marshes or large estuaries. During cold weather snow geese will roost in places with tall marsh vegetation, such as common reed (Phragmites australis) [15]. Sometimes geese create their own roost sites by grazing vegetation so low that they are able to make their own holes in the ground; these holes eventually turn into small ponds. Snow geese tend to feed on tidal flats and deltas that have the newest sediment deposits and where water is shallow (about 7.9 inches [20 cm] deep). They will move inland with flooding or cool, windy weather [15]. Lesser snow geese breed within 6 miles (10 km) of water in low tundra, while greater snow geese choose rockier sites on the lee side of mountains in wet tundra [16]. Snow geese often feed on agricultural land when the tide is in or when crops are just emerging [8]. COVER REQUIREMENTS : Snow geese need areas free from human disturbance, since they will abandon feeding or nesting areas if frequently disturbed [15]. Lesser snow geese need low, grassy tundra for breeding with flat basins near lakes, rivers, flood plains, or seas. Greater snow geese need rocky terrain near grassy tundra and areas where flat, marshy lands are protected from the north by mountains [13]. Mosses and grasses are needed for nests, and large bodies of water are needed for flocking since snow geese are gregarious birds [13]. In Manitoba studies have shown that they tend to be more successful nesters in areas that have tall willow (Salix spp.) shrubs (greater than 16 inches [40 cm]) compared to areas with short (less than 15 inches [30 cm]) or no willow shrubs [12]. Presumably the shrubs offer protection from predators. FOOD HABITS : Snow geese feed primarily on emergent marsh vegetation. Some species include saltgrass, wild millet (Echinochloa spp.), spikerush (Eleocharis spp.), feathergrass (Leptochloa fascicularis), panic grass, seashore paspalum (Paspalum baginatur), delta duckpotato (Sagittaria platyphylla), bulrush, cordgrass, cattail, ryegrass (Lolium spp.), and wild rice [15]. Rice is a very important food on wintering grounds in Texas and Louisiana along with smartweed (Polygonum spp.), dropseed (Sporobolus spp.), bluestem (Andropogon spp.), and fescue (Festuca spp.) [13]. Puccinellia phryganodes is important in arctic salt marshes [2], and corn is important in the Central Flyway states [1]. Because snow geese do not have crops they must eat large amounts of food in a short period of time [15]. They also need areas where they can eat grit in the form of sand or shell fragments. They will often fly long distances from feeding areas to get it [15]. PREDATORS : Snow geese predators include humans and arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus). On nesting grounds in the Soviet arctic reindeer (Rangifer spp.) can destroy nesting colonies by trampling [16]. MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Enhancing feeding areas with grit is an important management technique to improve wintering grounds [15]. Sand and fine gravel used in road surfacing could provide the necessary grit for snow geese food digestion. They also need areas that provide fresh water for drinking, although snow geese can use brackish water for a "considerable time" [15]. Several studies demonstrated the effects of snow geese grazing on certain food plants [2,3,10]. Along the Hudson Bay in Manitoba, geese can delay the succession of Puccinellia phryganodes-Carex subspathacea plant communities to Calamagrostis deschampsioides-Festuca rubra communities through grazing, but they cannot prevent it entirely [10]. The latter is not preferred forage whereas the former is very important in geese diets. Geese grazing on three-square bulrush (Scirpus americanus) in Quebec resulted in a marked decrease in belowground growth of plants compared to plots that were ungrazed for 3 years; however, no difference in nutrient value was noted between the two plots [3]. Grazing resulted in a significant increase in net aboveground primary production of Puccinellia phryganodes compared to ungrazed areas [2].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Chen caerulescens
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : NO-ENTRY HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : Snow geese are attracted to freshly burned ground, most likely because once the aboveground vegetation is removed, tubers and roots are easy foraging [18]. More than 20,000 geese fed for several days on a burned area (19,760 ac [8,000 ha]) in Louisiana [15]. Geese will flock to areas in Louisiana that are prescribed burned for cattle forage enhancement to feed on the new vegetation [17]. Geese can destroy a marsh following burning if they feed on the remaining rootstock and none is left to reproduce [11]. For more complete information about fire's effects on specific marsh plants refer to this database under Scirpus, Phragmites, Typha, Distichlis, Carex, and Eleocharis. FIRE USE : Fire can be used to reduce aboveground vegetation to allow easier access to tubers and roots and also allow geese to spot predators [15]. Burning in marshy wildlife refuges in the southeastern states is common practice for promoting growth of food and cover plants. Here, because of the long, wet growing season, rank vegetation can build up quickly, reducing food quality [9]. Louisiana marshes are typically burned every 2 years to promote the growth of three-square bulrush, millet, and giant foxtail. Burning can be used in combination with disking or deep flooding [9]. Late winter burns can create green vegetation in early spring when geese need to build up energy stores for their migration north. In Louisiana marshes where cordgrass is dominant and three-square bulrush is desired for food, burning during the dry season (August to October) every year for 3 to 4 years is necessary for three-square to take over [18]. To maintain a constant growth of this desirable species, burning any time between mid-October and the first of January with a 0 to 2-inch (5 cm) water level is recommended [18]. FIRE REGIMES : Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Chen caerulescens
REFERENCES : 1. Alisauskas, Ray T.; Ankney, C. Divison; Klaas, Erwin E. 1988. Winter diets and nutrition of midcontinental lesser snow geese. Journal of Wildlife Management. 52: 403-414. [19979] 2. Bazely, D. R.; Jefferies, R. L. 1989. Leaf and shoot demography of an arctic stoloniferous grass, Puccinellia phryganodes, in response to grazing. Journal of Ecology. 77: 811-822. [19980] 3. Belanger, L.; Giroux, J.; Bedard, J. 1990. Effects of goose grazing on the quality of Scirpus americanus rhizomes. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 68: 1012-1014. [19981] 4. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. [434] 5. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905] 6. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others]. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. [998] 7. Gauthier, Gilles; Tardif, Josee. 1991. Female feeding and male vigilance during nesting in greater snow geese. Condor. 93: 701-711. [19982] 8. Gauthier, Gilles; Bedard, Yves; Bedard, Jean. 1988. Habitat use and activity budgets of greater snow geese in spring. Journal of Wildlife Management. 52: 191-201. [19983] 9. Givens, Lawrence S. 1962. Use of fire on southeastern wildlife refuges. In: Proceedings, 1st annual Tall Timbers fire ecology conference; 1962 March 1-2; Tallahassee, FL. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station: 121-126. [19344] 10. Hik, D. S.; Jefferies, R. L.; Sinclair, A. R. E. 1992. Foraging by geese, isostatic uplift and asymmetry in the development of salt-marsh plant communities. Journal of Ecology. 80: 395-406. [19314] 11. Hoffpauir, Clark M. 1961. Methods of measuring and determining the effects of marsh fires. Proceedings, Annual Conference of Southeastern Association of Game and Fish Commissioners. [Volume unknown]: 142-161. [19416] 12. Jackson, Sandra L.; Hik, David S.; Rockwell, R. F. 1988. The influence of nesting habitat on reproductive success of the lesser snow goose. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 66: 1699-1703. [19984] 13. Johnsgard, Paul A. 1975. Waterfowl of North America. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. 575 p. [19985] 14. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. United States [Potential natural vegetation of the conterminous United States]. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 1:3,168,000; colored. [3455] 15. Leslie, John C.; Zwank, Phillip J. 1985. Habitat suitability index models: lesser snow goose (wintering). Biol. Rep. 82 (10.97). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 16 p. [19986] 16. Madge, Steve; Burn, Hilary. 1988. Waterfowl: An identification guide to the ducks, geese and swans of the world. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. 298 p. [20029] 17. McAtee, W. L. 1910. Notes on Chen caerulescens, Chen rossi, and other waterfowl in Louisiana. Auk. 27: 337-339. [19987] 18. Perkins, Carroll J. 1968. Controlled burning in the management of muskrats and waterfowl in Louisiana coastal marshes. In: Proceedings, annual Tall Timbers fire ecology conference; 1968 March 14-15; Tallahassee, FL. No. 8. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station: 269-280. [16941] 19. American Ornithologists' Union. 1957. Checklist of North American birds. 5th ed. Baltimore, MD: The Lord Baltimore Press, Inc. 691 p. [21235] 20. American Ornithologists' Union. 2004. The A.O.U. check-list of North American birds, 7th edition, [Online]. American Ornithologists' Union (Producer). Available: [2005, January 10]. [50863]