One of several similar wildfowl species in the Anser genus, Greater White-fronted Geese live up to their name with a distinctive white patch on the front of their face. The species is extremely widespread, although there are several sub-species, each with different breeding and overwintering ranges.
Greater White-Fronted Goose
Greater White-Fronted Goose swimming in wetlands
Greater White-Fronted Goose in-flight
Greater White-Fronted Goose portrait
Family:Ducks, geese and swans
64cm to 81cm
130cm to 165cm
1.9kg to 3.3kg
The Greater White-fronted Goose is a medium-sized, solidly built waterfowl with an orange/pink bill and legs and mostly brown plumage. Their most notable feature is a patch of white feathers on the forehead and around the base of the bill. The area under the tail is white, and they have varying amounts of black barring on the breast and belly, leading to their other common name of Speckle-belly Goose.
Females are similar to males, although ganders are generally the larger sex. Juveniles are uniformly brown with dull legs and bills. They have whitish feathers under the tail but lack the white forehead and dark belly ‘speckles’ of adults.
This species is most likely to be confused with the Greylag Goose in the United States, but European birdwatchers should also compare the following similar species:
Greater White-Fronted Goose entering the lake
The Greater White-fronted Goose is a medium-sized wildfowl species, intermediate between the Mallard and the Canada Goose.
Most adults measure approximately 25 to 32 inches or 64 to 81 centimeters. Males are generally larger than females.
These heavyset wildfowl weigh 4⅕ to 7¼ pounds or 1.9 to 3.3 kilograms.
Adults have a wingspan of 51 to 65 inches or 1.3 to 1.65 meters.
Greater White-Fronted Goose in-flight over a lake
Greater White-fronted Geese are very vocal when flocking, producing a musical laugh-like honking call. The call has a squeaky, high-pitched quality and consists of two or three syllables. They are most often heard as flocks fly over, calling to maintain contact with each other.
Greater White-Fronted Goose calling out
Greater White-fronted Geese are vegetarian grazers that feed on a variety of plant matter, including grass, seeds, bulbs, and berries. They take advantage of grain and other food crops like corn, wheat, soybean, and rice in the winter and on migration.
Goslings graze and eat small insects. The young birds follow their parents and feed themselves from the start, although their egg-yolk reserves sustain them for their first two days.
Greater White-Fronted Goose feeding on grass
Greater White-fronted Geese inhabit open tundra habitats with short vegetation near water during the summer breeding season. They spend the winter foraging in agricultural lands, meadows, marshes, and other open habitats but roost around shallow lakes and wetlands.
Greater White-fronted Geese breed across Alaska, Northern Canada, Greenland, and Russia. The North American populations winter west of the Rocky Mountains, around the Gulf Coast, and in Mexico. In the Old World, these wildfowl overwinter in isolated areas from the United Kingdom in the west to Japan in the east.
Greater White-fronted Geese live in open habitats, feeding in fields and on the water. These robust birds are comfortable on land, powerful in flight, and strong swimmers.
Greater White-fronted Geese are a common species with a wide distribution in the Northern Hemisphere. They have increased significantly in North America since the late 1900s, although numbers have declined drastically in the United Kingdom over a similar period.
Greater White-Fronted Geese in natural grassland habitat
Greater White-fronted Geese overwinter in two distinct areas of the United States. The Pacific population, which nests in Alaska, migrates along the West Coast to overwinter west of the Rocky Mountains from Washington to California. The Mid-continent population nests in Northern Canada and migrates via the Central Flyway to spend the winter in Texas, Louisiana, and other Gulf Coast states.
Greater White-fronted Geese nest across the far north of Canada from the Yukon to the western shores of Hudson Bay in Nunavut. They can also be seen further south on migration when they stage in the Canadian prairie provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some stay to overwinter on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
Greater White-fronted Geese visit the United Kingdom each winter from two separate breeding populations. The more numerous visitors from Greenland (Anser albifrons flavirostris) overwinter in Ireland and Scotland, while the scarcer Russian visitors (A. a. albifrons) winter in the south of England, particularly on large estuaries like the River Severn.
Greater White-Fronted Goose swimming on a lake
Greater White-fronted Geese have a typical lifespan of about six years, although they can live for at least 22 years in the wild. Captive specimens have survived for well over 40 years.
Greater White-fronted Geese are vulnerable to predators at each stage of their lifecycle. Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, Gyrfalcons, and Arctic Foxes are capable of hunting adults, while Ravens, larger Gulls, and Jaegers may take eggs and goslings.
Greater White-fronted Geese are a popular hunting target in the United States, although their harvest is regulated, and they are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Overwintering populations in the UK are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
These widespread and common wildfowl are listed as a ‘Least Concern’ species on the IUCN Red List.
Pair of Greater White-Fronted Geese feeding in grassland
Greater White-fronted Geese nest on the ground in Tundra and Taiga habitats near water. Females start by digging out a shallow scrape and then build a nest with nearby grass and other vegetation, finally lining it with down feathers.
Greater White-fronted Geese breed in spring and summer, with egg-laying in May and June. Incubation takes three or four weeks, and the precocial goslings leave the nest soon after. The young can fly after six or seven weeks, although they will remain together as a family for a year or more.
Greater White-fronted Geese usually lay four or five cream-colored eggs, each measuring approximately 79 millimeters long and 54 millimeters wide.
These birds form long-lasting pair bonds, although they will seek a new partner if they lose a mate.
Greater White-Fronted Goose at nesting site
Greater White-fronted Geese use aggressive displays to defend feeding areas in the winter. Posturing is usually enough to settle disputes, but they may resort to physical conflict, grasping each other by the neck or shoulder and striking out with their wings.
Greater White-fronted Geese sleep at night and around midday, either on the water or on islands and other predator-safe spots.
Greater White-Fronted Goose resting in a meadow
Greater White-fronted Geese are long-distance migrants. They breed within and near the Arctic Circle of North America and Asia but migrate south to spend the winter in temperate regions of Asia, Europe, and North America.
Greater White-fronted Geese are native to North America. These migratory wildfowl breed in Alaska and Canada and overwinter in the contiguous United States and Mexico.
White-fronted Geese are native to the United Kingdom, although they do not breed there. Most of the overwintering population breeds in Greenland but one or two thousand visit from Russia each year.
The Eurasian wigeon is a medium dabbling duck that commonly breeds across northern Europe, and winters further south, including in the British Isles and occasionally in North America. Rare vagrant breeding pairs can be found in the United States, and small breeding grounds have also been established in northern England and Scotland.
This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
Larger than the Common Scoter this elegant European diving duck spends much of its time at sea and is often seen in company with mixed flocks resting on the water’s surface far out from land.
Tundra Bean Goose
The tundra bean goose is the most common species of bean goose, and breeds on Russian tundra landscapes. Winters are spent grazing on open fields, marshes and agricultural land in western and central Europe and East Asia.
The Tufted Duck is the UK’s most common diving duck and a familiar sight on lakes and ponds across the country. Known for their long, hair-like tufts, these small waterfowl are fairly easy to identify but may be confused with other ducks from the Aythya genus.
Fast and erratic in flight, the Teal is the United Kingdom’s smallest wildfowl species. Despite occurring year-round in low numbers, birdwatchers are most likely to spot these tiny ducks in the winter when large numbers arrive from abroad.
Taiga Bean Goose
Taiga bean geese are a common sight on northern taiga marshes of Siberia and northern Scandinavia in spring and summer, before heading south into Europe each winter. Several hundred individuals spend winters in the UK, with rare vagrant visitors occasionally reported in North America.
One of seven American goose species, the Snow Goose is a noisy migrant that visits the Lower 48 states each winter. These beautiful birds have increased dramatically since the second half of the 20th century.
Despite being only a rare winter visitor to the British Isles, the Smew is one of the countrys most unmistakable and easily identified duck species. Breeding across Central Asia and returning to Western Europe during winter months, smews begin to turn up on inland lakes as well as in coastal regions from November onwards.
One look at the bill of a northern shoveler should be enough to provide you with an accurate species identification: their flattened shovel-like bills are unique among waterfowl and allow them to feed on tiny plankton by sweeping their heads across the water’s surface.
A large colourful duck, often found in coastal areas, the shelduck, is an established breeding waterbird in the UK. British wetlands are also a major wintering ground for the species, hosting up to 30 percent of Europe’s shelduck population each autumn.
A medium-sized diving duck, the greater scaup is known simply as the scaup in Europe, and locally as the ‘bluebill’ in North America. Only a handful of scaup breed in the UK, making it the rarest breeding duck in the British Isles.
A striking and fascinating little diving duck with an unusual courtship display, the Ruddy Duck is a widespread migrant in North America.
Colourful and instantly recognisable diving ducks, red-crested pochards are present in the UK in small numbers, believed to have initially been introduced into the wild from private wildfowl collections. Some breeding does occur in Britain, although the best chance of a sighting comes with the arrival of several hundred migrants each winter.
A speedy migratory wildfowl with a hardcore hairstyle, the Red-breasted Merganser is widespread in coastal and estuarine habitats across the Northern Hemisphere.
During the winter the population of this rare resident breeding duck increases by 55 times to that of the summer, with the influx of many thousands of others overwintering, having arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, Northern Pintails are distinctive migratory waterfowl. Drakes in breeding plumage are particularly attractive, although the drabber females and non-breeding males are still identifiable by their long necks and graceful form.
Although the pink-footed goose does not breed in Britain, it is a common winter visitor, with over half a million migrating individuals arriving each autumn from breeding grounds in Iceland, Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard peninsula.
One of the world’s heaviest flying birds, and one of the most beautiful too, the Mute Swan is a majestic waterfowl with a mean reputation.
Sightings of wild Mandarin Ducks in the United States cause quite a stir, and it’s easy to see why. These small but eye-catching waterfowl are, in fact, native to the Far East of Asia, although their popularity as an ornamental species has resulted in their introduction to many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom.
Instantly recognizable, the Mallard is a medium-sized dabbling duck that is familiar to people all over the world. These adaptable waterfowl are the ancestor of the modern domestic duck and are found everywhere from remote wilderness lakes to suburban backyards.
One of the most distinctive duck breeds, thanks to their extended streaming tail feathers, the long-tailed duck is a coastal waterbird that spends winters at sea, foraging for crustaceans in marine waters, after breeding on Arctic tundra landscapes.
The Greylag goose is the largest grey goose from the Anser genus of the Anatidae family of waterbirds. A stout, robust and heavyweight bird, the Greylag goose is the closest wild relative and ancestor to the domestic goose. Greylag geese are distributed across much of Europe and Asia, extending into eastern Russia and China. Most populations migrate, but some are sedentary, including in much of Northern Europe.
Widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, the common merganser is the largest of the saw billed fish eating ducks. There are three sub-species with the Eurasian variant frequently known as the Goosander.
Goldeneyes are distinctive diving ducks that thrive in cold environments, breeding in boreal forests across Canada, northern Scandinavia and northern Russia. Only when the lakes and coastal areas on their summer territories begin to freeze over as fall approaches do they begin to head south to milder regions where they spend winter months foraging on inland lakes and around sheltered bays.
The Gargeney is a dabbling duck, slightly smaller than a mallard, and considered a rare breeder in the UK, with just over 100 pairs recorded. A fully migratory species, all garganeys spend winters in southern Africa, leaving breeding grounds as early as July, so your window for spotting one on British waters is only a very brief one.
The Gadwall is a widely distributed dabbling duck of the Anatidae family that breeds in the Northern Hemisphere. This hardy duck breeds as far north as Siberia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and coastal Alaska and is found across both the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
The common eider (Somateria mollissima) is a large and widespread sea duck that is perhaps best known for its valuable insulating down feathers.
Regarded as being sacred by early Egyptians, this native goose of the African continent was introduced into Europe and elsewhere as an ornamental wildfowl species in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century.
The word scoter is often used to define northern sea ducks. There are six different species of scoter, all of which are monotypic and three of which are confined to North America. The Common Scoter like the Velvet Scoter can only be found in Europe and Asia whilst the Stejneger’s Scoter is a native of Asia alone.
Once decimated through overhunting and habitat destruction, the Canada Goose has rebounded to become one of North America’s most abundant and familiar wildfowl.
A small goose species with a short, stubby bill, the brent goose (or brant, as it is known in North America), breeds in the high Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Siberian Russia and northern Europe’s Arctic islands. Brant spend winters along North America’s Pacific coast, part of the east coast of the US, and in north-western Europe, from the British Isles to Denmark.
A subspecies of the North American tundra swan, Bewick’s swans breed in Siberia and arrive in the UK each autumn. Worrying declines have been observed in the European population in recent years, and today only around 4,350 individuals migrate to the UK each winter.
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