Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Snow Goose - Anser caerulescens
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General Comments The Snow Goose is a winter resident, occurring in large numbers in the northern tidewater areas; it tends to be scarce elsewhere. It feeds in fresh to slightly brackish marshes and in croplands, and roosts on fresh water lakes and impoundments. Historically, the Greater Snow Goose (atlantica subspecies), which consists almost solely of white-phase birds (over 95% in the state), was common to abundant near the immediate coast, south to Pea Island NWR, including Currituck Sound marshes. This coastal population, however, has declined precipitously since about 1990, due to two reasons: short-stopping in coastal VA and other states to the north, and wintering farther inland in NC. Greater Snows have greatly increased in the past decade or two in the Pungo/Phelps areas, but whether this population formerly wintered along the coast is not known. On the other hand, the Lesser Snow Goose (caerulescens subspecies), with dark phase ("Blue Goose") birds consisting of close to 50% of the total population, has wintered in moderate to large numbers in one or two flocks in the Lake Mattamuskeet area, especially at the eastern end of the lake and refuge. Records of this and a number of other goose species have greatly increased in the past few years in the mountains and western Piedmont, but only as singletons or small groups for brief periods of time.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S4N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident, mainly near the coast. Locally common to abundant in winter, mainly in several large (thousands) flocks, in the northern coastal and Tidewater zones south to Cape Hatteras point, Lake Mattamuskeet and vicinity, and the Phelps/Pungo lakes area; very rare to rare southward, mainly near the coast. Also very rare in the inner portions of the province. Normal dates are mid-Oct to late Mar. Peak counts have traditionally come from three locations: Pocosin Lakes NWR (high count at this location: 85,000 birds in Winter 2007-08); Lake Mattamuskeet (25,582 in Dec 2008); and Pea Island NWR (16,000 in Dec 1975).
Piedmont Scarce winter visitor, though sightings increasing in the western portions in recent years. Rare, scattered over most of the region; Oct through Mar. A blue phase bird summered at Lake Lure (Rutherford) in 2019. Peak counts: 185 in Forsyth on 1 Jan 2005. This number is exceptional, as most records are of just one or two birds.
Mountains Scarce, but increasing, winter visitor. Very rare to now rare; all but seven records are from the southern areas of the region, in Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Swain, and Transylvania, perhaps owing to more thorough coverage, larger lakes, or broader valleys. Late Oct to late Feb. One along NC 191 in Henderson was remarkably early on 28 Sep 2015. Another was quite late on Osceola Lake (Henderson) on 17 Apr 2018. Apparently the latest departing birds were an immature dark morph on Lake Tomahawk (Buncombe) on 10-11 May 2023, and an immature white morph bird at Mills River (Henderson) through 13 May 2023. Peak counts: 80, in flight over Mills River (Henderson), 9 Feb 2015; 35 at Mt. Pisgah (Buncombe) on 11 Nov 1998.
Finding Tips Though notably declining along the immediate coast, Snow Geese can often be seen in winter at Pea Island refuge. Hundreds to formerly a few thousand birds used to be easily observed from NC 12, but most now are seen only at South Pond. Though 5,000+ birds winter at Mattamuskeet NWR, they are found mainly on impoundments at the eastern part of the refuge, often difficult to reach for visitors. Birds are now typically easier to be seen at Pungo refuge, Mackay Island NWR, and a few other northeastern sites, though they typically occur in a few dense flocks, and these flocks are easily missed. The best viewing site is along Pat's Road at Pungo refuge, late in the day, as birds come in from fields or from Pungo Lake to feed in fields before retiring back to Pungo Lake for nighttime roosting. Thousands of Snows can be seen flying overhead at other places near this lake, or roosting on the lake (but at a distance there). Most inland birds are found in migration, in November or in March; blue or white birds are equally likely. Inland, you will need to check rare bird sightings to help spot the birds there.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-08-09], LeGrand[2023-03-17], LeGrand[2023-03-01]
NC Map
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