One sign that winter is on its way out is the annual congregation of Lesser Snow Geese in the area around Delta, Utah. Each February, thousands of these beautiful white birds use the fields and waters between Clear Lake Wildlife Management Area and Delta as a rest stop on their northern migration home for the summer.
This migrating bird spends its summers in Canada and then winters either in the southern United States, around the Imperial Valley in Southern California, or Mexico. While there, they feed and enjoy the warmer climate as they wait for winter to end. Then they prepare for their trip home. In early February, they begin to fly north, arriving in the Delta area around the second week of February. By mid-March most of them have moved on and will arrive at their breeding sites on the Anderson River, Northwest Territories, Canada around mid-to-late May.
The geese that congregate in Delta, spend much of the morning and evening in the agricultural fields feeding on young shoots of volunteer grain and weeds. During the day they are found on bodies of water or lying low in the fields if the weather is bad.
No other site in Utah offers the chance to see so many geese in one place. The sight and sound of thousands of white geese in the air and on the water in such a concentrated condition has got to be one of the most incredible wildlife experiences available.
Although snow geese reach maturity at two years of age, most of them do not breed until their third year. At that time, they will lay between 2 and 10 eggs with most nests having 5 or less. Females do almost all of the incubating while the males stand guard to ward off other geese and predators. Females rarely leave the nest and will lose up to 25% of their body weight while nesting. The eggs hatch in 19 to 24 days.
The female brood the young for about three weeks, after which both parents will lead the brood on swimming and feeding forays daily.
The young geese start making short flights at about 35 days and are fully fledged at about 45 days. By the end of August, they are ready to begin the trip south to California. In July and August, the adults molt their feathers and are unable to fly. However, they grow new ones and ready to fly by the end of August.
Because of the dedication of the parents, snow geese are remarkably successful nesters. However, about 50% of the young geese do not survive to return to the nesting grounds.