This guide will help you identify the types of geese spotted in Montana and will help you identify them with photos and detailed ID guides and when you are most likely to spot them, plus some fun facts.
Seven of the thirteen species of geese found in North America have been spotted in Montana. They are often spotted migrating across the state, but Canada Geese and Snow Geese can be spotted all year. Also, two of the species are vagrants.
A group of geese is called a gaggle. But have you heard all the names given to geese, such as shien, wedge, and a plump?
Or that they have been used for centuries as guards to protect pets, people, and even countries with their territorial behavior and loud honking!
Geese are protected under the migratory bird treaty, and it is illegal to harm them, their eggs, or their nests in the United States without permission from the U.S. Fish and Wild Service (USFWS).
7 Types Of Geese In Montana:
1. Canada Goose
Canada Geese are very common in Montana and are spotted in the state all year. They are recorded in up to 24% of summer and winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
The Canada Goose, also called the Canadian goose, is a large, long-necked goose recognized for its black head and easily identifiable white chin strap.
Canada Geese look very similar to Cackling Geese, and they have the same black head and white chin strap, but their long, graceful neck and large size separate them.
Their bodies are brown with a tan or pale chest and white rump. The color of the bodies among the subspecies may be shades of gray or brown. Their legs and webbed feet are black.
- Branta canadensis
- Length: 25 – 45 in (64 – 114 cm)
- Weight: 230.09 oz (6521 g)
- Wingspan: 70 – 75 in (178 – 190 cm)
As their name would suggest, Canada Geese breed in Canada and migrate for the winter to southern US states, but those in northern US states remain all year and do not migrate. They are also found in western Europe.
You can find Canada Geese practically anywhere. They are often seen near lakes and rivers, basically, anywhere there’s a body of water and an abundant food source. They are also used to humans, so they live comfortably in urban habitats like city parks, reservoirs, golf courses, public parks, and beaches.
In some places, their population has risen considerably and they’re considered pests.
Canada Geese mainly eat grasses when they’re on land and small aquatic insects and fish when they’re on the water. They also eat wheat, rice, and corn when they’re on agricultural fields. They’re accustomed to receiving food from humans or digging through trash cans.
Canada Goose Call:
Nests of Canada Geese are often in an elevated area near water. The female lays up to nine eggs in a nest made with plant material and down. She incubates the eggs for about a month while the male stays nearby, protecting them.
When they hatch, their parents lead them to a food source where they learn to feed themselves. Parents are incredibly territorial and violent when they sense danger or threats to their family.
Fun Fact: During the breeding season, adults lose their flight feathers because it coincides with their molting season. They only regain their feathers after twenty to forty days, just in time for them to fly with their young.
2. Snow Goose
Snow Geese can be spotted in Montana all year, but their numbers increase during migration from March to mid-May and October to December. They appear in 7% of checklists during spring and 5% of checklists during fall.
The Snow Goose is aptly named because this goose is totally white except for its black wingtips, pink bill with a black grin patch, and pink legs and feet.
Interestingly, it has another variant, called the Blue Goose, which has a white head but a dark blue-gray body. Both variants of the Snow Geese may occasionally have a “stained” head due to their feeding.
The sexes of both variants are similar though they may vary in size. Males tend to be larger than females.
Juvenile white morphs have a dusky gray-brown coloring, and juvenile blue morphs are dark gray. However, they both still have the recognizable pink bill and black grin patch.
- Anser caerulescens
- Length: 25 – 31 in (64 – 79 cm)
- Weight: 81.13 oz (2299 g)
- Wingspan: 54.3 in (138 cm)
Snow Geese breed mainly in Canada and spend winter in the United States.
You can find Snow Geese and Blue Geese together in freshwater marshes and agricultural grain fields. In winter, they favor salt marshes and coastal bays, but they still visit plowed cornfields or wetlands.
Snow Geese are herbivores and voracious eaters. They regularly feed in water-logged soil or shallow water. Their favorite diet includes any type of plant vegetation, like grasses, sedges, willows, rushes, and horsetails. They will also feed on seeds, grains, and plants that they rip up by their roots.
Snow Goose Call:
Nests of Snow Geese are usually found in large colonies on tundra. The female builds a nest, usually a shallow depression on the ground, which may be reused repeatedly because females return to the place where they hatched to breed.
After she lays the first three to five eggs, she lines the nest with grasses and down. Incubation takes around twenty-four days, and when they hatch, the goslings can fend for themselves.
Fun Fact: Snow Geese choose the same color morph as themselves when breeding and will mate for life.
3. Cackling Goose
Cackling Geese are winter birds in Montana and are spotted from September to May. They occur in 1% of winter checklists.
Cackling Geese are native to North America and bear a striking resemblance to Canada Geese. They were originally part of the Canada Goose family but were made into a full species in 2004.
Cackling Geese have black heads and necks with a white “chinstrap” patch. Their bills are short, black, and triangular. They are light brown or tan with white barring all over.
However, Cackling Geese are smaller in size than Canada Geese and have stubbier bills, steeper foreheads, and shorter necks.
There are four subspecies that all have the distinctive black heads and necks, including the white chinstrap but have slight variations in size or coloring.
- Branta hutchinsii
- Length: 22 – 30 in (56 – 76 cm)
- Weight: 105.9 oz (3001 g)
- Wingspan: 43 – 47 in (109 – 119 cm)
Cackling Geese breed in Canada and Alaska and migrate to the United States for winter.
You can find Cackling Geese year-round in wetlands and meadows. They often join flocks and mix with other geese in lakes, marshes, and fields in winter, but they prefer the tundra during summer.
Cackling Geese forage in open environments to graze on grasses and feed on sedges and berries. They will also eat crops like wheat, barley, beans, rice, and corn in agricultural fields. In the water, they feed on aquatic plants.
Cackling Goose Call:
Nests of Cackling Geese may be found singly or in colonies. They’re usually in a shallow depression but in a slightly elevated location near the water. The females use plant material and down to construct the nests. In it, she will lay up to eight eggs that she incubates for about a month.
Fun Fact: Cackling Geese have a distinctive “cackling” voice or high-pitched call, distinguishing them from Canada Geese.
4. Ross’s Goose
Ross’s Geese are not very common in Montana, but they are usually spotted during migration in April and occur in 1% of checklists at this time.
Ross’s Geese are pretty similar to Snow Geese, whom they often flock with. They are white all over except for their short, gray-based red-orange bills, short and stubby, pink-red legs and feet, and black wingtips. Both sexes are similar, but the female is slightly smaller.
There is a dark phase variant of Ross’s Goose, but it’s extremely rare. It has a white head, a brownish bill with a red patch, dark gray throats, underparts, and back.
- Anser rossii
- Length: 21 – 26 in (53 – 66 cm)
- Weight: 59.2 oz (1678 g)
- Wingspan: 47 – 54 in (119 – 137 cm)
Ross’s Geese breed in northern Canada and spend the winter in the United States.
You can find Ross’s Geese in salt and freshwater marshes during winter. During the breeding season, they will nest on the arctic tundra.
Ross’s Geese are grazers, and they often feed on grass, sedges, and small grains, which they forage from wetlands, meadows, and fields.
Ross’s Goose Call:
Nests of Ross’s Geese are located within colonies on lake islands and arctic tundra. Females build nests on the ground out of grasses, moss, leaves, and twigs that line with down. Each breeding female lays four to five eggs and incubates them for about three weeks.
Fun Fact: Ross’s Geese are the smallest geese in North America.
5. Greater White-fronted Goose
Greater White-fronted Geese are spotted in Montana during migration, but they are not very common here.
The Greater White-fronted Goose is simply known as White-fronted Goose in Europe and Greater Whitefront in North America.
Male and female Greater White-fronted Geese appear similar and are both relatively big geese.
Their barred feathers are mostly gray all-over, which is why they are sometimes mistaken for the Graylag Goose. What sets them apart is the “white front”, the white feathers surrounding the base of its orange bill. They also have black flecks on their underparts.
- Anser albifrons
- Length: 26 – 34 in (66 -86 cm)
- Weight: 126.98 oz (3599 g)
- Wingspan: 53 – 60 in (135 – 152 cm)
In North America, Greater White-fronted Geese predominantly breed in Canada and migrate to the United States and Mexico for winter. However, they are also found in Europe and east Asia.
Greater White-fronted Geese breed in the west of northern Canada and spend winter along the West Coast of the United States, The Gulf Coast, and Mexico.
You can find Greater White-fronted Geese in marshy tundra, wetlands, rivers, and ponds during the breeding season. In winter, they stay in agricultural fields, marshes, bays, and lakes.
Greater White-fronted Geese forage on both land and water. They feed on crops like seeds and grains from agricultural fields. They also eat grasses and berries. When near water, they forage for aquatic insects and mollusks.
White-fronted Goose Call:
Nests of Greater White-fronted Geese are found in shallow depressions in the tundra. They are lined with grass and down and usually hold three to six eggs. The female incubates them for two to three weeks.
Fun Fact: Greater White-fronted Geese form long-term family bonds. They migrate together, even with their offspring, and the young stay with their parents until the next breeding season.
Brant Geese are accidental species in Montana. They are extremely rare in the state and were last spotted around Flathead in 2012.
The Brant Goose is a small goose with a black head, throat, and chest, a white collar or marking on the throat, and a white rump. However, there are various sub-species, mainly with lighter or darker coloring.
- Branta bernicla
- Length: 22 – 26 in (56 – 66 cm)
- Weight: 63.84 oz (1809 g)
- Wingspan: 43 – 48 in (109 – 122 cm)
Brant Geese breed in Canada and Alaska before migrating to coastal areas of the United States and Mexico. They also live in Europe.
You can find Brant Geese in tundra, marshlands, islands, and coastal areas during the breeding season. In winter, they inhabit salt marshes, lagoons, mudflats, and tidal estuaries.
Brant geese feed mostly on plant material both on land and water. They favor eelgrass, but any available grass is welcome. They also eat sedges, pondweed, and aquatic insects.
Brant Goose Call:
Nests of Brant Geese are usually located on small islands in tundra ponds or in elevated locations. They are shallow bowls of grass lined with down.
The female lays up to seven eggs that incubate for three to four weeks. When the eggs hatch, the parents lead the young to the feeding area so they can feed themselves.
Fun Fact: Brant Geese can live up to 28 years.
7. Egyptian Goose
Egyptian Geese are extremely rare in Montana and have only been spotted around Great Falls in 2020.
The Egyptian Goose is an ornamental bird most often seen in zoos and aviaries but has grown to invasive population numbers in some countries.
Egyptian Geese have very distinct features, which make them easily identifiable. Their golden-yellow or orange eyes have a brown patch around them. Their heads are whitish-gray with some reddish tints at the nape, and their bills are pink on top and black on the bottom.
They have a reddish-brown collar. Their breasts are tan, their bellies are white with gray linings, and their backs and wings are a combination of white, green, brown, and black. They have pink legs and feet.
Juveniles have a darker reddish-brown head and nape. They are generally tan or light brown on their bellies. Their backs and wings are dark brown.
- Alopochen aegyptiaca
- Length: 24 – 29 in (61 – 74 cm)
- Weight: 70 – 77.5 oz (1984 – 2196 g)
- Wingspan: 52 – 60 in (132 – 152 cm)
Although native to Africa, escaped Egyptian Geese have populations in Europe and North America.
You can find Egyptian Goose in open, wetlands, and non-forested areas near water. They are also often kept in zoos and aviaries.
Egyptian Geese are fond of seeds, leaves, grasses, and plant stems. They will also eat algae and aquatic plants, insects, and small animals.
Egyptian Goose Call:
Nests of Egyptian Geese are found on the ground and in hollows of trees, caves, and other animals’ nests. The nests are made mostly of grasses, leaves, and down and hold up to twenty-two eggs that take about a month to hatch.
Parents will take care of their young, but the young have to learn how to feed themselves.
Fun Fact: The Egyptian Goose was once considered a sacred bird in Ancient Egypt and are featured in a lot of their artwork.