The Ross's Goose looks like a smaller version of the more abundant Snow Goose. It is overall white with black wing-tips and a pink bill. It breeds primarily in the central Canadian Arctic with Lesser Snow Geese. Most of the population winters in the central valley of California but increasing numbers are wintering from the north-central highlands of Mexico into New Mexico, and along the Gulf from Texas into Arkansas. They are a regular uncommon migrant and wintering bird in Tennessee, often seen with Snow Geese.
Description: Small white goose with round head, black wingtips, and a pink bill. Smaller bodied and smaller headed than the more abundant Snow Goose.
Weight: 2.7 lb
Similar Species: Snow Goose is similar in color, but is larger and heavier, with a proportionately larger head and bill.
Habitat: Found in agricultural fields and shallow wetlands in winter. In the breeding season, they use low arctic tundra, on islands in shallow lakes.
Diet: This is a grazing species that feeds on grasses, sedges, and small grains.
Nesting and reproduction: There are no known nesting records for this species in Tennessee.
Status in Tennessee: Uncommon but regular wintering bird in West Tennessee; uncommon bird in winter across Tennessee away from the Mississippi River Valley. Often seen migrating, flying, and/or foraging with Snow Geese.
Dynamic map of Ross's Goose eBird observations in Tennessee
- The Ross's Goose was first recorded by Samuel Hearme in 1771 (he called it the Horned Wavey); it was not described for science until 1861; and its arctic nesting grounds remained unknown until 1940.
- Approximately 95 percent of all Ross' Geese nest in the Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary in the central Canadian Arctic. Few breeding populations are known to exist and new populations of breeding birds have been found as recently as 1994.
- The first Ross's Goose record in Tennessee occurred in 1986 at Cross Creeks NWR.
- Ross's Goose are nearly always all white, however rarely one can be found that is dark-colored like a blue morph Snow Goose.
- Breeding populations are expanding in the arctic and hybridization is now occurring with Snow Geese.
- Only the female Ross's Goose incubates the eggs. While she is out foraging, she covers the eggs with down to help keep them warm.
Best places to see in Tennessee: Along the Mississippi River Valley in winter: Reelfoot Lake and along the Great River Rd. Search flocks of Snow Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Canada Geese for the smaller Ross's Goose.
For more information:
Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of TN Press, Knoxville, TN.
Ryder, J. P., and R. T. Alisauskas. 1994. Ross' Goose (Chen rossii). In The Birds of North America, No. 162 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.