Snow Geese in DelawareBy Timmy Jo Given (timmijo)
January 27, 2014
But there's more to the story. It's a story that I knew existed but never really looked for. It's just a given: If you live in Delaware, you WILL see snow geese (Chen caerulescens) congregate in the fields, or in marshes. We take it for granted that they will return, year after year, to delight us with their unique beauty.
I finally got my chance to be with the geese while traveling with my nephew Andy in Kent County, Delaware in early January. Wouldn't you know it—thousands of snow geese had decided to settle in a field right along the highway a few miles north of Milford. We excitedly pulled over onto a small roadway, parked the van, and crept through a line of evergreen trees to witness the miracle of a gaggle of snow geese in Delaware.
Where did the snow geese come from in the first place? We see them arrive in the sky above our heads beginning with autumn, and then we see them depart in the spring. In between, we see them in great piles on the ground out in the country. We have a vague idea that they come from somewhere else, hang out with us for the winter, and then leave.
While researching online, I found a site with an illustrated map of the snow geese's easternmost flyway from Northern Canada to the east coast of the U.S.
Well, that makes sense; I would not want to spend the winter in the Canadian Arctic, either, so I don't blame the geese for coming here to little ol' Delaware where it is obviously MUCH warmer than Ellesmere or Baffin Island in the dead of January.
Most of the literature published on the Internet describes the snow goose as a migratory bird although one site did mention that under the right conditions, a snow goose will remain. But for the most part, the geese are only here for the comfort (and food) of our mild Delaware winters; it must be like a tropical cruise for them in comparison.
If you are fortunate enough to happen upon an expanse of snow geese, you might see a few darker-colored geese in the crowd. I have learned that those are the immature geese that haven't yet become white, or it may be a result of genetics. In any case, snow geese do not breed here in the "south". That happens way, way up north—so far north that snow geese are the northernmost breeding geese in the world, according to ornithology. In addition, snow geese families stay together and mate for life.
Where can you go to get a look at snow geese in Delaware?
I think most of it is pure luck because while we know where the geese will most likely look for food, we cannot guarantee that they will be in a certain spot at any given time. However, two places in Delaware come to mind for those who want to increase their chances for planning a successful snow goose outing: Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, and Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.
Both of these refuges provide a place for geese to forage, but they paradoxically also provide places for geese to be hunted in a regulated manner.
I did not want to bring that subject up because it seems contradictory to both protect bird species and allow for hunting, but the refuges are in the business of wildlife management. Sometimes numbers have to be managed, and the good news is that the once-protected snow geese are now prolific in number in the Mid-Atlantic wintertime.
Remembering the trip with Andy in early January, I went back to the tree-lined place today, but the birds were not there. I had really expected them to be exactly where we had joyously photographed them just a few short weeks ago. Alas—all that remained of our magical snow geese moment was a memory. And photos.
Andy had snapped this cell phone picture of me as I stepped closer and closer to the whole group of geese that collectively waddled farther and farther away. I am not sure if he was cross with me for chasing them out of reach that day, but if you are reading this, Andy, there are yet other opportunites before spring.
There is still time! The snow geese stick around until late March, so maybe we will get another chance to see them up close.
The local wildlife refuges mentioned here offer auto tours and foot trails that are open to the public and timed according to the natural movement of birds and other creatures according to the seasons.
If I check in with Bombay Hook (Kent County) or Prime Hook (Sussex County), I can capture some birding action as the March migration back to the Canadian Arctic begins.
And—there is always next winter.
Resources for further information:
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, including video clip
Delaware Snow Goose Conservation Order, 2014 (Hunting Snow Geese)