Identify Texas Geese

1A Hunting in Texas Guide Service


Snow Goose

snow and blue goose decoys used for hunting in Texas
Scientific name; Chen caerulescens
As the common name of Snow Goose, implies, these birds are basically all white in the most common color phase (lower right goose decoy). They do have black primary feathers (wing tips), pinkish bill and feet, and the young will exhibit considerable amounts of gray on top the wings, back and head (upper left bird). 
A darker color phase also exists. It is commonly called the Blue Goose (low left and upper right) and may comprise as much as 20% of some lesser snow goose subspecie populations (there is also a greater snow goose subspecie that occurs on the east coast). The blue morph of this goose gets blue gray feathers on top of their wings, thus the name. The blue's body may be variable amounts of dark gray or mostly white, but the wings of the blue phase are always dark when compared to the white morph. Young birds of the blue phase are almost all gray, except for the belly. Mature birds develop nearly all white heads and necks. 
In flight, a young blue, lacking the white head, may be difficult to tell from a young Specklebelly Goose (before they get the specks). Be careful! If close enough, look for the pinkish gray bill and feet of the blue goose versus the orange bill and feet of the speck. If they are not that close, or under poor lighting conditions, just wait for the bark like honk of a blue goose versus the oo-loo laugh of the speck.
Another specie, scientific name; chen rossii, and commonly called a Ross' Goose, very closely resembles the Snow Goose. The differences are in body size and the bill. The Ross' Goose is a smaller bird, about 3 pounds versus 4 or 5 for a snow. The Ross' have a disproportionately shorter bill. They usually develop "carbuncles" (warty appearing growths) where the bill and head join, and they lack the distinctive "grin patch" (looks like black lips) of the snow. Blue phase Ross' Geese are extremely rare. Estimates are as low as 1 in 10,000 specimens. 
In Texas, Ross' Geese and Snow Geese are lumped together legally and called, "Light Geese". They have an aggregate bag limit.
Closeup Ross' Goose head
Ross' Goose


White-fronted Goose

young and old specklebelly goose in flight
Photo courtesy of Peter La Tourrette
Scientific name; Anser albifrons
The above shows a mature and immature White-fronted Goose in flight, also know as Specklebelly Goose. The "specks" on the belly are quite evident on the mature bird. Young whitefronts do not have the specks. Other colloquial names are: Bar Bellies, Specks, Speckies, Gray Goose and Laughing Geese (because of one of their many calls) The White-fronted Goose name is because, when standing on the ground, the front part of the chest is white.  The mature birds also have a white ring around the front of their face, where the head and bill join. This white ring is much less evident in young birds. The bright orange bill and feet really show in good light.
There are two subspecies of this goose. The Greater and Lesser variety. Their appearance is identical, except for size. The Lessers run about 4 or 5  pounds average, and the greaters average over 6 pounds each. While Texas goose hunting, we run across the lesser variety almost exclusively. 
Specklebelly geese tend to fly around in much smaller flocks than do snows, and at much lower altitudes, so they are much easier to shoot. Therefore, the limit is substantially lower than that of snows.  As of the 2007 Texas goose hunting season, the western part of Texas only allowed one whitefronted goose a day. The east part of Texas allowed two specks per day.
Specks make several vocalizations, but the one most uttered in flight is a high pitched "oo-loo" or "oo-loo-loo". They will also sometimes make a single, long "ooooo" that trails off at the end. On the ground, they sometimes make many "oo's" in a row, like "oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo". It somewhat sounds like someone laughing very loudly. The alarm call sounds like a high tension electrical wire overhead. 
Unfortunately, I'm real familiar with that alarm call. Although generally easier to call in than are snows, mature specklebellies are no walk in the park, and there are many, very mature birds out there. The longevity record in the wild for white-fronted goose is over 25 years. That individual did not live that long by being an easy bird to decoy.
young specklebelly goose
Juvenile White-fronted Goose


Canada Goose

canada geese flying
Scientific name; Branta canadensis
The white cheek patch on the solid black head and neck of a Canada Goose is it's most distinguishing feature. There are several subspecies of this goose, and those subspecies are made up of different populations (a distinct breeding group). The different subspecies will vary in size from 2 pound Cacklers to 20 pound Giant Canadas, and their body/wing coloration will vary through shades and combinations of gray, black, brown and white, but the white cheek patch on black head and neck is a constant feature. Look for it when Texas goose hunting. Young goose or old goose, male or female, they all have that cheek patch. Even when Canada geese hybridize with other goose species, that cheek patch is usually still there on the hybrid individuals.
The canadas we get in my part of Texas are all the smaller subspecies. Our BIG canadas will be about 5 pounds, most are about 2 or 3. When I get hunters from up north, they frequently tell me the geese were too high when I first call the shot on canadas, but after I knock one down for them, they see the deal. They are just accustomed to looking at 8 to 12 pound geese, so Texas canadas look further than they really are. Trust your guide is all I can tell you. We don't like skybusting, so we're not going to call shots that aren't truly killable shots.
Like the specks, canada geese tend to be in relatively small flocks and fly at lower altitudes than snows. Therefore, they are generally easier to shoot. They usually are fairly easy to decoy as well, responding readily to good calling. The limits reflect this, being three canada geese in the eastern Texas goose hunting zone, and four in the western goose hunting zone.
Traditional, deep pitched Canada Goose calls will often work when goose hunting in Texas, but it usually is more effective if they are tuned to a higher pitch. That will more closely resemble the calls of the smaller subspecies. I have actually called in about as many with a snow goose call blown like a canada call, as I have with my real canada call. The snow goose call is almost always in my hand when I hear the canadas, so I just stick with it rather than dig for the other call. I only dig if the birds don't respond to the snow call blown canada style.
cackling goose and greater canada goose
Greater Canada Goose (left)
Cackling Canada Goose (right)
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Decoying Snow Geese
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