Barry Kent MacKayArt by Barry Kent MacKay
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In this section are copies of original works of art. All of them are dedicated to helping us live according to unconditional love and compassion, which is the foundation of our peaceful means of bringing true and lasting peace to all of God's creatures, whether they are human beings or other animals.

Snow Goose (Anser [Chen] caerulescens)


Snow Geese
(Artwork - 142)
Snow Goose (Anser [Chen] caerulescens)

Snow Geese

Snow Geese

The Snow Goose is native to arctic regions from Siberia east through Alaska and Northern Canada to Greenland, with a few also found in northwestern Europe, most (but not all) probably having escaped from captivity or descended from escaped captives. Previously it, the similar Ross’s Goose and the Barnacle Goose, a Eurasian species, were placed in the genus, Chen, where it is still kept by some taxonomists although it is now regarded “officially” as belonging to the genus Anser, which includes the Canada Goose (A. canadensis), with which it can hybridize in the wild.

The scientific name refers to a goose that is dark blue or bluish in colour, and as you can see from the painting, it fits, sort of. There are pale blue-gray areas on the wings, while I had to mix cobalt blue with raw brown umber to match the dark body colour.

But the English name derives from the fact that most Snow Geese have pure white plumage, with black primary feathers (wing tips).

In fact, there are two colour morphs of the same species, the highly variable dark morph, that I have shown in the painting, and the white morph. Originally, they were understandably thought to be two separate species, the “Blue Goose”, which was the first discovered and formally named by science, and the “Snow Goose”, originally named as a separate species. It’s just a bit more complicated by the fact that there are two distinct subspecies, a smaller form that breeds mostly to the west of Baffin Island, as far as eastern Siberia, and south along the west coast of Hudson Bay and tends to migrate down through the middle of the continent or down along the west coast, and the very slightly larger eastern form, that breeds on Baffin Island eastward into Greenland, and tends to migrate down through the vast St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence region and the U.S. east coast. They are sometimes called the “lesser” and the “greater” Snow Goose, respectively. It is the “lesser” that mostly has the blue morph, although it can occur not only in the “greater” Snow Geese but also, rarely, in the Ross’s Goose.

Following the rules by which organisms are formally named, the first name applied is used for the scientific name, so although most Snow Geese are white, that is not reflected in the scientific name.

They were, according to early reports, once extremely abundant, but numbers decreased through the twentieth century, after which they began to rebound, presumably because of the ending of market hunting, and the loss of viable habitat on the wintering grounds was compensated by increase in food, both from croplands and intentional waterfowl feeding in game preserves. Whether or not the current supportive capacity on migration routes and wintering ground is greater than it was prior to the development and farming of highly nutritious grains can’t be known with certainty, but that is the assumption of wildlife managers who have implemented a “conservation order” that allows absurdly high levels of hunting, spring and fall.

While certainly not questioning their sincerity, to me it is a classic example of what has become known as the “shifting baseline syndrome”, well described here. Dr. Pauly refers to oceanic systems, but the principles are the same: an unquestioned assumption that the lower numbers imposed upon populations of wildlife by human action is the “norm”, and what is “right”, accompanied by distrust of the accuracy of the necessarily “anecdotal” nature of early accounts. If recovery occurs, it is assumed to be an “over” population, especially in species such as Snow Geese, deer, Savannah Elephants, cormorants, beaver, wolves and many others, whose natural habits alter their respective habitats and produce easily visible impacts on less evident when their numbers were low.

I’ve shown a pair of fairly typical “blue” geese, but there are all manner of combinations of colour and pattern between them, and the birds that are mostly white. The painting is in acrylics on compressed hardboard and is 16 X 20 inches in size. I have also shown a small, very rough and quick field sketch I did of a family of white morph Snow Geese, done many years ago on the species’ nesting grounds in the subarctic, and finally, a painting of the smaller but closely related Ross’s Goose, also done quite a few years ago.

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Copyright © Barry Kent MacKay
Barry describes himself as a Canadian artist/writer/naturalist.
See his website: http://barrykentmackay.ca/

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