Ross's Goose

Chen rossii

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Photo of a Ross's goose walking on grass.
Ross’s goose has a rounded head, stubby bill, and short neck, and lacks the black “lipstick” patch on the bill that snow geese have.
Family

Anatidae (ducks, geese, swans) in the order Anseriformes

Description

Ross’s goose looks a lot like the snow goose and, like that species, has a white and a “blue” color pattern (morph). Like the snow goose, the white form of Ross’s goose is all white with dark primaries and gray primary coverts. The key to telling the two species apart is body size and bill shape and color. Ross’s goose is the size of a mallard and has a short neck and rounded head; the pink bill is stubby and lacks the black “lipstick” or “grinning” patch. On close inspection, a blue-green warty patch saddles the upper bill near the base. The “blue goose” or dark morph is very rare. The voice is a high-pitched honking sound, similar to the snow goose’s but higher and not as shrill.

Similar species: The snow goose, discussed above. Note also that hybrids between snow goose and Ross’s goose are not rare.

Size

Length: 23 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

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Photo of a Ross's goose standing near a Canada goose.
Ross’s Goose and Canada Goose
Ross’s goose is much smaller than a snow goose. It is about the size of a mallard.

rosss_goose_2-17-15.jpg

Photo of a Ross's goose.
Ross’s Goose
Ross’s goose is an uncommon migrant in Missouri. As a winter resident, it is uncommon (in the west) to rare (in the east).

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Photo of two Ross's geese standing near some Canada geese.
Ross’s Geese and Canada Geese
In Missouri, most large goose flocks anywhere in the state often have a few Ross’s geese present.
Habitat and conservation

Usually observed among groups of snow geese. Occurs in marshes, sloughs, ponds, lakes, and reservoirs with aquatic vegetation. Also forages in crop fields. More frequently seen in northwestern Missouri, although most large goose flocks anywhere in the state often have a few Ross’s geese present.

Foods

Ross’s geese forage in marshes, rivers, lakes, and crop fields, including cornfields and new winter wheat fields, for grains, roots, grasses, and aquatic vegetation.

image of Ross’s Goose distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Uncommon migrant. As winter resident, uncommon (west) to rare (east). Ross’s goose is a gamebird in Missouri. Populations of Ross’s and snow geese have increased to a historically high level. As a result, they are overgrazing their arctic nesting range and degrading large areas of the tundra where other species nest. Wildlife agencies have been trying to control the population size through various methods.

Life cycle

Ross’s geese overwinter in the southern part of their range, including (uncommonly) Missouri, and return north in spring to the arctic tundra to breed. There, they make simple scrapes on the ground and typically lay 2 to 6 eggs.

Human connections

As migrating geese fly overhead, they reassure us of the certainty of changing seasons. As the great conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote, “One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.”

Ecosystem connections

As adults, and even more so as goslings and as eggs, geese are preyed on by a variety of predators. They influence the plant and animal communities in both summer and winter territories, and as they migrate, they play a role in every ecosystem they travel through.