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MARS moment: Snow geese making their annual trek to warmer climates

By James MacKenzie
The annual snow geese migration covers some 3,500 kilometres from Russia’s Wrangel Island, to the Comox Valley. Photo by James MacKenzie

By James MacKenzie

Special to Black Press

As winter approaches, human “snowbirds” up and down Vancouver Island flee the chilly north to winter in warmer climes like Arizona, Florida and the Caribbean. At the same time, a whole manner of birds, waterfowl to be exact, are also on the move south. That’s right, we’re talking ducks, geese, and swans, all making the perilous journey south from their breeding grounds. Some of these birds pass us by, while others decide to rest their wings for the season in our area.

Unfortunately for a portion of young waterfowl, this first migration will be their last. Many juvenile, as well as older and injured birds, succumb to migratory exhaustion, bad weather, and predation, as well as human hazards like cars, illuminated power structures, and hunters.

The MARS Wildlife Hospital sees this migratory movement in real time, as we recently received our first snow goose patient of the fall. An average weight for a snow goose is 2.6 kilograms but this bird came in from Powell River weighing only 963 grams. In addition to being emaciated, she has bruising, skin missing, and a large wound under her left wing pit.

Our hospital staff suspect the injuries came from crash-landing after a long flight. You’d be tired too, especially considering most of “our” snow geese are travelling from Russia’s Wrangel Island, 3,500 km away from the MARS hospital! While some individuals stay locally for the winter, the vast majority of snow geese fly beyond the Comox Valley, aiming for salt marshes and farmer’s fields in the Lower Mainland to California.

As the cold season moves forward, our hospital expects to receive more migratory ducks and geese, as well as trumpeter swans, the largest waterfowl in North America. So, if you see a white bird flying overhead, be it snow goose or swan, wish it luck on its long journey. And please, don’t allow your dog to chase birds on the beach because they are already weakened by migration and a stressful event like that can be devastating for their health.