Snow Geese are Heading Home

It’s that time of year when the snow geese are beginning their long journey home. The fields of central California’s Pacific Flyway are drying up, the winter rains seem to be done. These snow geese are starting their return migration to Alaska and the Canadian arctic.


They have spent the winter here living on marshes, fields, and open habitats.  Preferring to be near water, this vegetarian bird forages on grasses, shrubs, tubers, and seeds.

Snow Geese

Snow Geese and Sutter Buttes

About half of a snow goose’s year is spent away from home, migrating and wintering in warm locations all across the country. See map at end.


More snow goose info here.


When migrating, they fly very high, and take one of four different North American corridors, or flyways, to and from their breeding grounds. Our geese here in central California occupy the Pacific Flyway (green, west coast on this map directly below).


A gregarious bird, they migrate in large flocks and nest in colonies.

Courtesy Wikipedia

We visited several northern California wintering grounds last month. As some of you know, Athena (photographer and partner) and I have been returning to this area every winter for over a quarter-century.


Every visit we record all the bird species we’ve seen, enter the information in birding software. We now have a substantial idea of the migrating species here every winter.

Snow Geese, Sacramento NWR

Each year is a different story. Species populations vary depending on weather, food supply, habitat degradation, and breeding success. In the span of this many years, most bird species recover whatever hardship they had, and eventually we see the numbers back up again. Some species, like the bald eagle, even increase. Some species decline.


As far as snow goose populations go, this year there were enormous numbers of them, more than we have seen in many years.


I have read articles and books by ornithologists and birders from long ago, like John James Audubon, or more recently, Aldo Leopold and Roger Tory Peterson. Even some fiction writers from bygone years describe certain birds in their narratives.


I pay attention to the species they write about, a bird they are happy to see, how they describe it to the reader. Sometimes those species have been extinct for some time, or is a bird that I know would be nearly impossible to see anymore, there are so few of them left.


What I treasure about the snow geese, therefore, is their abundance–the way they darken the sky with their masses, fill the air with their boisterous, lively sounds. They still have a presence on this planet.


Snow geese, Sacramento Nat’l. Wildlife Refuge, CA


Listen to a minute of this recording, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Snow Geese, audio, large flock. 


They’ve had a mild winter here this year, have fattened up for the journey north, and now they begin their return trip.

Snow Goose “grin patch”

A seasonal farewell salute to this loveable bird, I look forward to seeing them again next winter.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander

image of range map for Snow Goose

Snow Goose Range Map, provided by Birds of North America


85 thoughts on “Snow Geese are Heading Home

    • Hi Janet, thanks for stopping by today. You can find out if you have snow geese by looking on the map of North America I’ve provided. Or checking on the website of your local Audubon group. Hope you have a wonderful weekend–

  1. Its wonderful to hear about a bird not in decline. And I love the flight photos, particularly the last two of them taking off and then in flight, to say nothing of the Athena’s first shot – brilliant 🙂

  2. The clouds of snow geese are a marvel to behold. We’re about to head your way. We’ll camp in Colusa less than a week from now. I hope there are still a few stragglers. From there we’ll be heading down to the Bosque del Apache. It should be fun. We might even head up into Colorado to follow some the Apache flocks. Yet to be determined. Not so sure about this mild winter as we’ve been hearing about snow in the Redwoods which will be our first stop. Hard to imagine snow in the Redwoods! Then crossing the Sierras could be an adventure as we hope to head south along the Eastern slopes.

    • About half the photos taken here are from Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. I am delighted you and Eric will be heading this way, Gunta. Hopefully you will have an hour to take the auto tour at Colusa. I’ve included the link below. The tour is free. There is a platform when you first arrive, where you can park and take photos. Lots of people take photos here, many guys hang out here for hours. Then you can drive on the auto tour, it’s only three miles, and you’ll be rewarded with a black-crowned night heron roost at the end. This link has the map. Your upcoming venues sound dreamy, and I’ve enjoyed following you thus far. I look so forward to hearing more about it. I haven’t been up to Colusa for a month, but I’m pretty sure there will still be some snow geese there for you. Have fun in your bird mobile. Link:

      • Thanks for the link, Jet. It looks like a great place to visit. I noticed on our maps that there are quite a few refuges in that area. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to visit others, too. Then Eric mentioned that we may follow the migration up to Klamath on our way home. It should be fun.

      • I hope you do get some time in that area, Gunta. Colusa and Sacramento NWRs are the best of all of those you see on the map. The area is also for duck hunters so some of the refuges have more gun-shooting noise (ugh) and some of the ducks are consequently more skittish. Have a great time when there, and please don’t hesitate to email or respond in comments with questions.

  3. Beautiful sights and sounds here – lively and boisterous indeed, and we are all the better for it. Enjoyed reading your longtime enthusiasm for these geese (and other species), each week I almost always finish with a smile – thanks, Jet!

    • I’m glad you had a chance to listen to the recording, pc, and that you enjoyed the migrating snow geese here. It is such a glory, and a great joy to share. I’m glad I left you with a smile in the day. Thank you, my friend, for your warm comment and friendship. I thought of you and Mrs. pc this week because the oxalis is blooming everywhere here. It’s that neon yellow flower that was brightening up the hillsides when you visited in March. It’s here now, and just as gorgeous as when you visited. Cheers–

      • We read this comment as the snow was coming down outside, and Judy exclaimed “No! Already?!” when she got to the part about the oxalis blooming. I’ve an idea she’s been looking at flights, although I don’t think we have the time…
        Hope your weekend has been full of colour!

  4. I always enjoy learning from you…thank you!! You aren’t kidding when you say they darken the sky with their masses…incredible! As always Athena’s photography is assume…some really great pics!!

    • So very wonderful to hear from you, Kirt, always a pleasure. I used to be a teacher and I enjoy sharing the information of nature, and I am really glad you enjoy it. There is a lot of technical info and other bits about snow geese, but I think sharing the basics, and the beauty, is the best. Sending my warmest wishes to you, I’ll be stopping by your site soon to see what bright and beautiful art you’re up to.

  5. The sight of migratory snow geese passing through the Northeast is a special one, but these photos of wintering birds at the CA refuges indicate how spectacular their gatherings can be. Thanks for sharing this, and may all our migratory passages this season be as fulfilling!

    • Your words are always a gift, Walt, thank you for sprinkling me with them today. I like the wish for all our migratory passages to be fulfilling. I have had much migrating lately, and more to come, and I will remember these words fondly.

    • These photos were all taken on one day last month, and Athena was really on that day. And the sights and the clouds were breathtaking. I’m glad you enjoyed them, Belinda, and that I could share the miracle of the snow geese with you.

  6. Jet I love this post. Every spring for a few days about a zillion of these beautiful birds land on the river in the middle of Calgary. Often we still have ice and always wonder what in the world they are doing! Now we know a little stopover if the Central migration path! Gorgeous photos from Athena. Thanks you two. Always learning.

    • How wonderful for you to learn what the snow geese are doing in your neighborhood, Sue. I really like knowing that they’re stopping there for a rest, too. Then off they go, on another leg of the journey. Such sweetness in this. And what a spectacle it must be. Always a joy, Sue, to hear from you.

  7. Very interesting post Jet. It’s very similar to the Canada Geese in the East Coast. I used to see them while I lived in New Jersey. The used to invade gulf courses. They leave plenty fertilizer behind! The Snow Geese are better looking. Thanks my friend… 🙂

    • As always, I enjoyed your comment, HJ. The snow geese are very handsome birds. They are a smaller species than the Canada Goose. They are not pure white, like the egrets, as they get muddy and stained from the earth colors and also have black wing tips. They vary a lot in species too, because some are “blue morph” and some are “white morph.” A wonderful bird, and a joy to share with you. Have a great weekend my friend–

  8. Lovely post and photos of this seasonal farewell! Your wonderful descriptions, links and photos brought to life this beautiful nature party with the “gregarious, boisterous” snow geese. I loved the description in one of the links that mentioned watching this was “like standing inside a snow globe” and your words and Athena’s photos at the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge captured that lovely image. I have never had a chance to watch this type of amazing scene, but I did see about twenty-five crows circling the air this week and wondered what they were up to. I enjoyed reading about your history at this location and tracking the migratory species every year and always love hearing about new books I should check out. This is a sign that spring is on its way soon, right??

    • What a joy to receive your comment, ACI. Thank you for your interest in the snow geese, and taking the time to read the links, and absorb my choice of words. I loved that “snow globe” description, too…and a great expression of the magic of the scene. So glad you liked the photos too. On the auto tours Athena’s in the back seat by herself as I drive; and she has so many cameras going, lenses, both windows open, it’s great. I like hearing about the 25 crows circling that you witnessed, because it is a thrill to see big numbers of birds, and I would imagine the crows were vocal and delightful to see. They’re such a smart bird, too, always interesting to watch for what they are thinking. And yes, my friend, spring is on the way. You’re of course in a colder land than I, but spring is not so very far away for you. Soon you and Gabby will be back out there in your kayak. This makes me smile, thinking about it.

    • I love sharing this adventure because we’ve been enjoying it for so very many years, and yet it never gets old, and it is always different. I think that’s what makes it remarkable, so I’m glad you used that word, Sharon. Thanks so much.

  9. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Snow Geese – and yet the maps suggests we are along their migration path. I shall have to be more observant! I’m always astounded by the distances birds travel to get to their breeding grounds!

  10. What a wonderful sight indeed – One I would enjoy very much. Thank you for sharing these fantastic pictures and as always your words. Thinking of you as spring approaches and hoping that life is moving forward. Janet 🙂

    • Yes, you would enjoy this sight, Janet. Although there are no hummingbirds in the flocks, there is magic, definitely. And come to think of it, I did see Anna’s hummingbirds near the Visitor Center. Spring has greeted us in a wonderful way, and life does to continue to move forward. No repairs on the house yet, but the first step is going to happen in 1-2 weeks: debris removal. yay! Thanks for asking and for your strong and gentle support. I hope you are enjoying a happy weekend.

  11. So nice to hear of an abundance! And, as always, I admire your vigilance, passion and willingness to share them. Loved the recording; sounds like home. ;=)

    • Thank you, Lloyd, I’m happy you enjoyed the huge flocks of snow geese. Re our post-fire status, we are living across the bay from SF at the moment, renting a condo, but will be moving again next month, not sure where to. Although it has been over 4 months, no repairs have begun. The volume of destruction has paralyzed the county, but debris removal, the first step, will begin for us in the next week or two. Thank you for your concern, my friend, much appreciated.

  12. Wow! They truly fill the sky! Great, informative post and wonderful captures. We don’t see these geese here in FL … perhaps they know we never have snow 🙂

    • Lots of snow birds in Florida, but not of the avian variety. 😉 I enjoyed sharing this incredible bird, Helen, and am glad you stopped by. My thanks, and warm wishes to you–

  13. Their abundance–the way they darken the sky with their masses… How spectacular! A very beautiful post of snow geese, great photos. 🙂
    I planned to see birds at the Gulf coast this spring. But, I heard that the area is “gone” due to the hurricane harvey.

    • Hi Amy, I’m happy you enjoyed the amazing masses of snow geese. And sorry to hear about the Gulf coast destruction. That section of the Texas coast is so ample in usual years. Arizona in the spring is good for hummingbirds…. Thanks for your visit today.

  14. The Images you have Posted on the Snow Geese are much like what is over here in PA. Not far from me is the Middle Creek Wildlife Sancurary where every Spring the Snow Geese stop on their way to rest and eat. There are really thousands of them. The last count that I know of is over 170,000 geese with more arriving every day. They are a true sight to behold. When they all take flight the roar from their wings is awesome to hear. Many people go to see them. It get’s so full that Game Commission Officers have to turn people away! I have been there 2 times so far. Never stop seeing this sight of Nature. Nice Post, Jet.

    • Thanks very much, Les, for sharing the snow geese of Middle Creek Wildlife Sanctuary in PA. I am glad to hear they are drawing a crowd of human spectators. I can tell by your wonderful description how much you, too, enjoy this spectacle. Cheers — and thank you.

  15. I enjoy and welcome the Snow Geese around the mid-Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay regions each winter! I saw a huge flock just over a week ago in Maryland, and thought to myself, that would probably be my last sighting of them for this season. Thank you for your informative post, Jet, of this endearing species that once you’ve seen and heard, you will never, ever forget them!

  16. Yes, they certainly do still have a presence on this planet! Love the audio recording, and have heard a more minor version of it in real life. Incredible how north they fly to breed. That may be one of their secrets to surviving, getting as far away from human populations as possible.

    • Unfortunately human populations are growing at an enormous rate, and this squeezes out the other species with whom we share this planet. Glad you’ve had the pleasure of hearing the cacophony of honking from these beautiful geese, Resa. Many thanks.

  17. I’ve read that the geese fly in a V-shape because it’s aero-dynamically more efficient, and that the two birds behind the leader continually honk-honk to encourage it. When the leader ls tired, it drops back, and another fresh bird takes over, and if one bird falls behind and needs to rest, two will drop down to ground to be with it, and support it… I often think humans could learn a lesson from them…loved your post…

    • Thank you very much, Valerie, for the visit and comment. It is a marvel how geese work out the flock leading. And yes, we humans can always find a lot to learn from the wildlife.

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