Snow Geese in Colorado

This winter I made the trip up to Lamar Colorado for the High Plains Snow Goose Festival.  Over 30,000 snow geese migrate through Colorado in the winter. I tried to find the geese on my own last year and didn’t know enough about the bird’s behavior to look for them in quite the right place.  Although, the thought that I could miss 30,000 big white birds in south eastern Colorado seems somewhat ridiculous.

This year however I was determined to see the geese. So I decided to seek out help from people who could show me where the birds are.  I attended the 2023 Snow Goose Festival, held annually in February in the small town of Lamar.  Like the town, the festival was also small. There were a handful of speakers, a small craft fair and a banquet that advertised the fact that they would not accommodate any vegetarian food requests.  There was a decent list of birding and local heritage tours. 

The Ride to See the Geese

I signed up for a tour to go out and see the Snow Geese in the afternoon. I figured this tour would give me enough information to find them on my own next time.  I wasn’t wrong.  About 20 of us clamored onto an old yellow school bus and we were on our way out to one of the many wildlife management areas with water that peppered the south-eastern Colorado plains.

We didn’t find them at our first two stops, however, we looked up and saw a large group of snowgeese flying west and we followed them in the bus. Tailing them, we arrived at a nearby reservoir and got there just in time to see a giant flock put down their landing gear and drop to the water surface.

Snowgeese congregate in huge flocks at the Wildlife Refuges in southeastern Colorado – photo by Heather Valey – copyright 2023

A Snow White Spectacle

In Colorado, snow geese are typically seen in large flocks during their winter migration, with some flocks numbering in the thousands. They tend to congregate near bodies of water or in agricultural fields where they can feed on crops such as corn or wheat.  Over 200,000 birds migrate through Colorado in the winter and the number keeps growing.

One of the best places to see snow geese in Colorado is at the many wildlife management areas near Lamar Colorado. This area is home to a variety of waterfowl, including snow geese, and offers visitors the opportunity to witness these beautiful birds up close. There is also a great chance you’ll see a variety of raptors including Bald Eagles, Harriers and Merlin.

The Down Side to this Spectacle

I found it pretty exciting to see such large numbers of snow geese but I didn’t know that their population has sky rocketed out of control in recent years. Because of this they cause a lot of damage to agricultural land and natural habitats.

Snowgeese feathers litter an agricultural field in southeastern Colorado – photo by Heather Valey – coyright 2023

Another worry is that due to the overpopulation of these birds, they are outcompeting other birds in the Arctic where they nest. Since they eat roots and tubers in the arctic, they expose barren soil to the elements causing evaporation. This brings salt to the top layers of the soil and renders the soil unable to support plant life. The loss of habitat creates overcrowding of multiple bird species which brings avian disease and further destruction of habitat.

How Did this Happen?

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife the increase in the snowgoose population is due to a number of factors including: An increase of food during migration (usually due to agriculture), climate change and other issues.

What is the Solution?

In order to combat this problem, wildlife officials are counting on hunting to help. Snow goose limits on harvest have been removed entirely, although this hasn’t seemed to make much of a difference. While I’m not a huge fan of hunting, in some circumstances where we have completely blown the natural balance off wack it is needed. This is one of those situations.

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