There’s no denying the spectacle of thousands of snow geese. The Jan. 17 Bosque del Apache bird count put the number at the central New Mexico refuge at 55,000. Lissa and I watched entranced this afternoon as some subset of that, many thousands strong, flew and landed and flew again in the north farm fields at the wildlife refuge along the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque.
The snow goose is a conservation success story that illustrates the difficulties of conservation success. In the early 20th century, population levels had dropped so far that hunting was restricted. Today, the problem is the opposite, as Felicity Barringer reported a couple of years ago:
Whether the cause of this population explosion is a warming trend in Northern breeding grounds, an increase in the food supply in their winter homes or a combination, few would dispute that there are too many birds in all five groups of snow geese that migrate along North America’s flyways. “Nationally, snow geese numbers are increasing exponentially,” said Dan Frisk, the manager of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge here. “They are destroying their own habitat.”
Their population explosion is causing problems on their summer tundra nesting grounds. Here in New Mexico, we see them up and down the Rio Grande, but especially at the Bosque del Apache, where they winter in numbers so large that they squeeze out other species. But when they gather, yowza it’s fun to watch: