Blane Klemek: En route to their breeding grounds, snow geese now roam the continent in hopscotch – Detroit Lakes Tribune

Oh, glorious spring, my favorite time of year! After a seemingly endless winter, nothing could be more welcome than lots of sunshine, warmth and melting weather. Spring is the best time.

Reports of migrating songbirds filtering through the Northland are now common. American robins, red-winged blackbirds, sandhill cranes, Canada geese and trumpeter swans have arrived, and soon many other migrating wild birds will join them.

Outdoor columnist Blane Klemek

Additionally, songbirds like redpolls and dark-eyed juncos will be on their way further north to the Arctic Circle and other places in the northern hemisphere to breed and nest.

And one of the most abundant bird species on the planet – certainly among the most populous of waterfowl – snow geese also roam the continent en route to their arctic breeding grounds. This beautiful species of goose is a marvel of success and ancient beginnings, with its massive numbers, migratory exploits and primordial vocalizations.

My first close encounter with snow geese was in the spring of 2000. A good friend and I decided to try our luck hunting snow geese during the new spring snow goose hunting season authorized by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The hunt, which continues to this day, was allowed because the snow goose population was so high that the birds were damaging their breeding and nesting grounds. Essentially, hunting was put in place to help reduce the population.

The awe-inspiring migratory spectacle we witnessed that spring, and subsequent springs since, unfolded throughout the prairie pothole region and across the prairies of the Dakotas.

I remember one memorable day in March, with barely a breeze or cloud in the sky, watching endless flocks of migrating waterfowl, mostly snow geese, streaming north over our heads. What a view!

This incredible migratory event was the result of a multi-day stopover due to stormy weather that kept most of the birds grounded. But that day, when the weather came up, it was like feather floodgates had opened. I couldn’t help but feel the sense of urgency watching these migratory birds as I gazed skyward at the wondrous sight of hundreds of thousands of waterfowl of almost every variety from horizon to horizon. , flying north towards their nesting grounds.

One of the interesting characteristics of snow geese is that they are not all white. You’ve probably heard of “blue geese” or “blue morph”, which is simply a common color phase of snow geese. Snow goose and blue goose are terms used to describe the same species, just different colors, and they travel, breed and nest together.

As mentioned, snow geese breed and nest in large numbers in the Arctic Circle. From the tundra of Alaska and across Canada, from the subarctic to the high arctic, this prolific species of goose is abundant. According to some population estimates, the snow goose population numbers more than 5 million birds worldwide.

Moreover, despite the spring and fall hunting seasons, the population continues to increase. The number of snow geese has increased by more than 300% since the 1970s. Incredible to say the least.

Like all geese, snow geese are primarily grazers. Voracious foragers, snow geese feed on a wide variety of grasses and other wetland and tundra plants such as sedges and rushes and a host of other plants which includes all parts – stems , seeds, leaves, tubers and even roots. It’s no wonder that millions of these birds can have such a profound effect on the environment.

Long-lived snow geese can reach ages of 12 to over 20 years. The oldest recorded snow goose was a 27-year-old wild goose shot in Texas in 1999. As with most migratory bird species, older and more experienced mature birds lead young birds to and from nesting and wintering grounds each year. These migration routes take root in the memory of young birds, which in turn are passed on to other geese.

It’s hard to believe that the snow goose population was in such peril almost 100 years ago that the hunt was stopped. But in the mid-1970s, hunting seasons resumed due to population recovery. Every year since then, snow goose populations have continued to increase and expand.

Blane Klemek is a Minnesota DNR Wildlife Manager. He can be reached at

[email protected]