Greater White-fronted Goose

Bird of the Month: Greater White-fronted Goose

ByHugh Jennings

PC: Ollie Oliver (Greater White-fronted Goose)

PC: Ollie Oliver (Greater White-fronted Goose)

Scientific Name: Anser albifrons

Length 28 in

Wingspan 53 in

Weight 4.8 lb

AOU Band code GWFG

The Greater White-fronted Goose (GWFG) is about 28” long with a wingspan of 53” and a weight of 4.8 lb. (2200g). This about one-half the weight of the large common Canada Goose. The genus name Anser (AN-ser) is Latin for goose. The species name albifrons (AL-bih-frons) is from the Latin albus meaning white, and frons for forehead, hence, white-fronted for white front of face.

This goose is slender and agile with long, narrow wings, bright orange legs, pink or orange bill, white tip on tail and a gray upper wing. In flight, note black patches on brown belly, grayish-blue wash on upper wings and white U-shaped rump band.

This goose is found mainly west of the Mississippi River. In the Northwest, they are an uncommon winter resident, usually with Canada Geese. During migration, the GWFG are fairly common in the fall and common in the spring migration. From the breeding grounds in southwestern Alaska they take a direct overwater route to coastal Washington. Then they go over the Cascades to a staging area in the Klamath Basin enroute to central California for the winter. Large numbers stop briefly at the McNary NWR. Flocks can number in the thousands. The V-formations resemble Canada Geese, but the GWFG flight is more agile. The call is a laughing kah-lah-aluck.

They nest on the Arctic tundra and winter in open country in mild climates. They are found on marshes, prairies, fields, lakes and bays in the tundra. Most of the geese spend winter where agricultural fields are available for foraging which are near extensive shallow waters for roosting. Wintering flocks leave night roosts before sunrise to fly to feeding areas. Musical honking can be heard from wavering lines of White-fronteds flying overhead at dawn.

The GWFGs diet in winter is mostly plant material, seeds and waste grain in fields. During the summer they eat stems and roots of grasses, sedges, horsetail and other plants. They eat a few aquatic insects, and sometimes snails, which are probably eaten with the plants. They forage while walking on land and grazing by picking up food from the ground. In water they submerge head and neck or upend with tail up and head down.

The GWFG usually first breed at 3 years. A “triumph display” is important to the pair bond. The male briefly attacks another bird, then returns to the female with neck outstretched and wings partly open while both male and female call loudly.

The nest is on hummocks or elevated ground near ground that is surrounded by grasses, low shrubs and sedges. The female builds the nest in a shallow depression lined with plant materials and down added near the end of egg laying. There are usually 3-6 dull white eggs that become stained from the nest. Incubation is by the female for only 22-27 days. The young can walk and swim shortly after hatching. Both of the parents tend to the young, leading them to feeding areas where the young feed themselves. First flight is at about 38-45 days. The young stay with the parents for the first year of their life and often are loosely associated with them for several years.