Very similar in appearance and also closely related to the Lesser Snow Goose, the Ross’s Goose is a bit smaller and breeds in highly concentrated fashion in a relatively small area of arctic Canada. Some colonies can number well over a quarter-million birds. Ross’s Geese often associate with Lesser Snow Geese on the breeding grounds.
Jaegers, gulls, and foxes all prey on eggs and young of Ross’s Geese. Defensive charges and chases are used in an effort to repel predators. Those young that survive can live for many years. The oldest known Ross’s Goose in the wild lived over 21 years.
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Description of the Ross’s Goose
The Ross’s Goose is a small goose with a small pinkish bill. It is white with black wing tips, although there is also a rare bluish-gray form.
Seasonal change in appearance
Similar to adults, may be more dusky.
Tundra, marshes, and fields.
Grasses sedges, seeds, and grains.
Forages by grazing.
Ross’s Geese breed in northern Canada and winter along the East Coast, in California, and in the south-central U.S.
Ross’s Geese are often seen mixed in with flocks of Snow Geese, where the size difference can be readily apparent.
Ross’s Geese will chase Snow Geese away from their territories.
Squawks and “keek-keek-keek “ flight calls are given.
- Similar species: The Snow Goose is larger and has a larger bill with a large black “grinning patch”.
The nest is a bowl of plant material on the ground.
Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 21-23 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) shortly after hatching but remain with the adults for some time.
Bent Life History of the Ross’s Goose
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Ross’s Goose – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
EXANTHEMOPS ROSSII (Cassin)
The smallest and the rarest of the geese which regularly visit the United States is this pretty little white goose, hardly larger than our largest ducks, a winter visitor from farthest north, which comes to spend a few winter months in the genial climate of California.
Spring: Whither it goes when it wings its long flight northeastward across the Rocky Mountains in the early spring no one knows, probably to remote and unexplored lands in the Arctic regions. At certain places it is abundant at times, as the following account by Robert S. Williams (1886), of Great Falls, Montana, will illustrate; he writes
On the 17th of April, 18S5. after several (days of sternly weather, with wind from the northwest, accompanied at times by heavy fog an(l rain, there appeared on a bar in the Missouri River at this place a large flock of Ross’s snow geese. In the afternoon of the same day, procuring a boat, we rowed toward the flock, which presented a rather remarkable sight, consisting as it did of several thousand individuals squatting closely together along the edge of the bar. Here and there birds were constantly standing up and flapping their wings, then settling down again, all the while a confused gabble, half gooselike, half ducklike, arising from the whole flock. We approached to within a hundred yards or so, when the geese lightly arose to a considerable height and flew off over the prairie, where they soon alighted and began to feed on the short, green grass. While flying, often two or three birds would dart off from the main flock, and, one behind the other, swing around in great curves, quite after the manner of the little chimney swift in the East. Apparently these same birds remained about till tile 26th of April, long after the storm was over, but they became broken up into several smaller flocks some time before leaving. Some five or six specimens were shot during their stay.
Mr. Roderick MacFarlane (1891) never succeeded in finding its breeding grounds or learning anything definite about where it goes in summer; he says:
A male bird of this species was shot at Fort Anderson on 25th May, 1865, where it is by far the least abundant of the genus during the spring migration. The Esquimaux assured us that it did not breed in liverpool Bay, and it may therefore do so, along with the great bulk of the two large species, on the extensive islands to the northwest of the American continent. At Fort Chipewyan, Athabasca, however, it is the last of the geese to arrive in spring. but among the first to return in the autumn.
Nesting: Absolutely nothing seems to be known about its breeding habits in a wild state. Probably nothing will be known until some of the vast unexplored areas in the Arctic regions are better known. But these regions are so inaccessible that their exploration would involve more time, greater expense, and more enthusiasm than even the valuable results to be attained are likely to warrant. Therefore this and Several other similar problems are likely to remain for a long time unsolved.
For all that we know about the nesting habits of the Ross goose, we are indebted to F. E. Blaauw (1903) who has succeeded in breeding this species in captivity on his place at Gooilust in Holland. He writes:
At a meeting of the British Ornithologists’ Club on March 20, 1901, I exhibited an egg of the rare Ross’s snow goose (Chen rossi) laid in captivity by a solitary female kept by me at Gooilust. A year later, through the courtesy of Doctor Heck, of Berlin, I received a second specimen of this species, which fortunately proved, as I hoped it would, to be a male. The birds soon paired. and in the beginning of May, 1902, the female made a nest under a bush in her Inclosure. The nest was, as Is usual with geese, a small depression in the soil, lined with dry grass and grass roots.
Toward the end of the month the female began to lay, arid on the 30th, when the full complement of 5 eggs had been deposited, she began to sit, having in the meantime abundantly lined her nest with down from her own breast. The two birds had always been of a very retiring disposition, but after the female had laid her eggs the male, who nearly always kept watch close by the nest, became quite aggressive. He would fearlessly attack anybody that approached.
Eggs: There is an egg in the collection of Adolph Nehrkorn, probably one of Mr. Blaauw’s eggs, which is described as white and which measures 74 by 47 millimeters.
Young: Mr. Blaauw’s bird had incubated for only 21 days when he was surprised to find the eggs hatched. “All the 5 eggs bad hatched, and the little birds were still in the nest when I noticed them, forming a most charming group, ever watched as they were by their anxious parents.” Another season, when 3 eggs were set under a hen, the period of incubation proved to be 24 days.
Plumages: Mr. Blaauw (1903) describes the downy young as follows:
The chicks are of a yellowish gray, darker on the upper side and lighter below, and have, what makes them most conspicuously beautiful, bright canary-yellow heads, with the most delicate grayish sheen over them, caused by the extremity of the longer down hairs being of that color. The bill is black, with a flesh-colored tip. A little spot in front of each eye is also blackish. The legs are olive green. The down is wonderfully full and heavy, and it seems almost incredible how such large birds can have come out of such small eggs. Three of the chicks were as described above, but two of them had the part white which in the others was yellow. All that I can add is that, as usual with chicks, the intensity of the coloration gradually diminished as they got older, and In particular the brightness of the yellow of the head and the depth of the black in front of the eyes slowly diminished, so that even when a week old the delicate glory of it had largely disappeared.
The young birds described above all died in the downy stage, but another season he raised one young bird, in which he describes (1905) the development of the plumage as follows:
I am now able to give a complete account of the development of Ross’s goose, Chen rossi. This season my female laid three eggs, and, as in previous years, she had proved to be a bad mother, I took the eggs away and put them under a common hen. The period of incubation was 24 days this time, and the eggs were hatched on the 10th of July. All the three eggs were hatched, but unfortunately the heu in some way or other killed two of the chicks the same day that they were born. The third escaped this fate and was tenderly cared for by its foster mother. I have described in detail the color of the down in a previous letter (Ibis, 1903, p. 245), so that it will suffice to say that the chick was a fluffy object with gray down and a bright canaryyellow head.
The little bird grew very rapidly, and when 2 weeks old was about the size of a Japanese bantam hen. The bill was still black at this stage, with a pink tip (the nail), and the legs were greenish. When 3 weeks old the feathers began to appear on the shoulders, the flanks, the tail, and the wings. When 4 weeks old the bird was about the size of a small hen. The body was almost entirely feathered, but the head and neck were still in down. The legs were bluish and the bill was getting lighter in color. When 5 weeks old the whole body was feathered, and when 6 weeks old even the flight feathers were of their full length. The first plumage may be described as follows: General color, white. A brownish-gray spot on the occiput, which runs down along the back of the neck. The base of the neck and the mantle brownish gray, forming a crescent of that color, of which the points are turned forward on each side of the base of the neck. The smaller wing coverts are of the palest brownish gray, with a dark spot at the tip of each feather. The flanks are gray, the large flight feathers black. The first five secondaries have a dark spot in the center; those that follow are white, with only a very slight sprinkling of brownish; the three Innermost have dark centers, and the white edges are finely spotted with gray. The tail is white, with only a suspicion of a grayish tint on the middle feathers. The legs are greenish gray with pink shining through. The bill is pinkish, the lores are blackish gray, which color extends over and behind the eyes. When 10 weeks old the bird began to r~olt, and the gray feathers of the juvenile dress were rapidly replaced by white ones. Also the large tail feathers were molted, the central rectrices being dropped first. The legs now began to turn pink in earnest, and the bill assumed its double coloration of a greenish base and a pink tip.
From the above account one would infer that the Ross goose acquires its fully adult plumage at its first prenuptial molt, when about 10 months old. As this molt probably involves the tail, all the contour plumage, and the wing coverts, it would leave only the secondaries and tertials to be replaced at a complete postnuptial molt the following summer.
Winter: The principal winter home of the Ross goose within our limits seems to be in the central valleys of California, where it assoclates with the snow goose in the stubble fields and is often quite common. It seems to be tamer than other species of geese which visit that region; hence many are shot for the market and quite a number have found their way into scientific collections. Often the wing-tipped birds are kept in captivity and become easily domesticated; I have seen some interesting photographs illustrating the tameness of such captured birds.
Breeding range: Entirely unknown, probably on some unexplored Arctic lands.
Winter range: The main winter range is in California, in the interior valleys (Sacramento and San Joaquin) and nearer the coast farther south (Ventura and Orange Counties). A few may winter occasionally in neighboring States or in Mexico, but probably only casually.
Spring migration: Northeastward to the Athabasca-Mackenzie region and beyond into Arctic re~rions. Early dates of arrival: Montana, Lewistown, March 14; Oregon, Camp Harney, April 12; Alaska, Wrangell, April 15; Mackenzie, Fort Anderson, May 25. Average dates of arrival in Montana are April 7 and 8 and of the departure April 24. Later dates of departure: California, Merced County, April 2; Montana, Teton County, May 8; Alberta, Athabasca River, June 4; Arctic coast, Kent Peninsula, June 2.
Fall migration: A reversal of the spring route. Early dates of arrival: Great Slave Lake, September 1; Alberta, Buffalo Lake, September 6; Montana, Columbia Falls, October 10; California, Stockton, October 6; Utah~ Bear River, October 22. Late dates of departure: Alberta, Buffalo Lake, October 10 and Athabasca Lake, October 18; Montana, Columbia Falls, October 28.
Casual records: Outside of regular migration, it has occurred in Manitoba (Winnipeg, September 20, 1902), Louisiana (Little Vermilion Bay, February 23, 1910), Arizona (Fort Verde, October 24, 1887), Mexico (Bustillos Lake, Chihuahua) and British Columbia (Comox, January, 1894, and Lumby, May, 1920).