Excitement and awe fill the air as a flock of Snow Geese rise up from feeding grounds and head to the Gunnison Bend Reservoir in Delta, Utah. If you’ve ever been near a flock of several thousand birds, it is a dizzying sight. Before taking off, and while in flight, they are communicating with each other. A wave of honks increases in sequence and pitch, and a honking frenzy precedes the immense whooshing, and slapping of wings as they take to the air.
Snow Geese are amid a great migration. This is a cycle that brings them full circle for months on end, and it spans continents. The little dot on a map called Delta, is where they find food and rest. They graze in fields owned by nearby farmers. Both corn, and fall grain seem to be a staple they like.
With bellies full, they rest in the afternoon. Landing on the ice of the Gunnison Bend Reservoir, they group closely together, a little light preening, and then to sleep on their frozen water bed. Most will turn their heads backwards and tuck their bill into the top fold of their wing.
The Snow Goose migration is a pretty drawn-out affair that lasts 3 or 4 months. They begin their northward spring migration as early as February in the south of the United States and arrive at their breeding grounds by the end of May. Their return migration in the fall begins in September and is usually completed by December.
When viewing a Snow Goose, you may notice a silver band on its leg. This is part of a Division of Wildlife Resources project to track the migration of specific birds.
Waterfowl banding began in Utah in 1912, and since then, 211,860 waterfowl have had little metal bands placed on them while they migrated through the Beehive State. The DWR places these bands on roughly 5,000 ducks, geese and swans — about 10-12 species — in Utah every year. Many of those bands were later located and reported in a federal database, and that data has been compiled in an interactive website to show how far the bird traveled before it was found.
“The intent of this website is to show people how far waterfowl migrate,” Blair Stringham, DWR migratory game bird program coordinator said. “It also emphasizes how important Utah is to migratory birds. Millions of birds move through Utah during their annual migrations, and most are journeying from other states, countries and even continents.”
This migration is something that many residents of Delta and surrounding areas look forward to. For at least 20 years there has been a Snow Goose Festival, and true to form, this year’s festival was a hit. People came from all over the State of Utah to participate in the 5K Wild Goose Chase, vender fair, quilt fair, and to enjoy some local food and fun.
As the geese come together, it creates a beautiful spectacle that brings us humans together to view and appreciate them.
While there, I was struck by a young family viewing the birds. A young bright girl standing near her father was pointing at the geese and asking her father questions as her dad crouched near her and answered her. Perhaps this will be a memory that stays with her for life, and a moment that her parents will cherish.
I am happy the birds are here, and I hope they will be refreshed from their stay in Delta.