In Our Back Yard – 20,000 Snow Geese

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Snow Geese take flight at Gunnison Bend Resevoir. Photo: Ed Helmick

Less than a two-hour drive from south Utah County you can find one of the largest annual migrations of Snow Geese in the United States. From Mid-February to Mid-March an estimated 20,000 Snow Geese stop for rest and nourishment at the Gunnison Bend Reservoir. This species of goose, native to North America, is all white except for black wing tips and underwings that are barely visible on the ground. An occasional variant is seen with gray/blue plumage. The birds leave the lake early in the morning to feed in the local farm fields and return to the lake mid-morning; flying off again late afternoon to feed in the fields before returning to the lake again for the night. The snow geese are on their 3,000-mile migration back to the Canadian Arctic after wintering in southern California and Mexico.

A few years ago, the community of Delta, Utah, wanted to take advantage of their feathered visitors passing through the area and created the “Delta Snow Goose Festival” the last Friday and Saturday in February. Because of the late winter storms this year there are still thousands of geese hanging around the Gunnison Bend Reservoir during the first few weeks of March. The huge number of geese is an amazing sight well worth the drive to Delta.

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Thousands of Snow Geese gather near Delta.
Photo: Ed Helmick

The viewing of hundreds or thousands of birds taking off from or landing on the lake does require some sticktoitiveness and patience for the most rewarding sights. Typically, by the time you drive to Delta and find your way the Gunnison Bend Reservoir, the geese have left the water and flown off to nearby farm fields to feed. About 10:30 or 11, listen for the birds. You will probably hear them in the air before you see them. They will, as a flock, make a pass over the lake, like any good pilot to check out the landing surface. Then they will all land within the span of a couple minutes. They will float around in groups of several hundreds with a few birds challenging the social order if you patiently observe. These birds are protected wildlife and it is both inappropriate and illegal to harass them. It will be hours before they fly off the lake for their evening feed. When they do take to the air it will be a matter of just a few seconds and hundreds of very vocal birds are off the water and in the air. This is an incredible wildlife experience. It is a sight and sound you will remember forever.

Delta is in west-central Utah at the junction of U.S. Highway 6 & 50. West of Delta the Sevier River is dammed creating the Gunnison Bend Reservoir for water storage and irrigation. The reservoir is named in honor of John Williams Gunnison, an Army officer and explorer of the western U.S. Gunnison was killed in an Indian massacre not far from the site of the Gunnison Bend Reservoir.