Strong seasonality of high‐latitude environments imposes temporal constraints on forage availability and quality for keystone herbivores in terrestrial arctic ecosystems, including hyper‐abundant colonial geese. Changes in food quality due to intraspecific competition, or food availability relative to the breeding phenology of birds, may have consequences for growth and survival of young. We used long‐term data (1993–2014) from the Karrak Lake nesting colony in the Canadian central arctic to study relative roles of density and phenological mismatch (i.e. days between seasonal peaks in vegetation quality and hatching) as drivers of annual variations in gosling survival among lesser snow Anser caerulescens caerulescens and Ross's geese A. rossii. Survival of Ross's goslings was consistently higher compared to snow geese. For both species, annual gosling survival was greatest when phenological mismatch was minimal and when nesting population size was low. We also examined gosling structural size (1999–2014) in relation to density and mismatch hypotheses to understand whether changes in survival were preceded by a parallel response in growth stemming from a density‐dependent effect on annual forage conditions. After controlling for sex, age and random effects of capture group and year × species, structural size of both snow and Ross's goslings was reduced in years when phenological mismatch was greater. However, there was no significant evidence that body size of goslings was negatively related to breeding population size at the colony. Our results lend support to the notion that both broad‐scale changes in seasonality from observed and predicted warming in the arctic and, to a lesser extent, density‐dependence on brood‐rearing areas may result in changes to offspring quality or survival, with implications for population recruitment.