The (Greater) White-fronted Goose belongs to the so-called Grey Geese group and is one of the species breeding in the arctic of northern Eurasia, Greeland, Iceland and the northern rim of Canada and Alaska. These birds are migratory and they spend half of their time in wintering ranges in northwest Europe and parts of continental Europe. This is when we have a chance to watch these lovely birds going about their business.
The main wintering ranges of the White-fronted Goose are in the Netherlands where the mass of these birds spents winter and early spring. Other ranges are on both sides of the Dutch / German border and on the German coastline of the Waddensea. So if you want to watch these birds going there is really worth the time.
Characteristics of the Greater White-fronted Goose
Genus: Grey Geese (Anser)
Species: Greater White-fronted Goose
Scientific Name: Anser albifrons
Sub-species of the White-fronted Goose
There are five sub-species of the White-fronted Goose which are listed below:
- Anser albifrons albifrons – European White-fronted Goose
- Anser a. flavirostris – Greenland White-fronted Goose
- Anser a. frontalis – breeding from East Siberia to arctic Canada
- Anser a. gambelli – Gambel’s White-fronted Goose – breeding in interior northern Canada
- Anser a. elgasi – Tule Goose – breeding in southwest Alaska
Names and Synonyms of the Greater Whited-fronted Goose
- German: Blaessgans
- French: Oie rieuse
- Spanish: Ánsar Careto
- Portuguese: Ganso-de-testa-branca
- Italian: Oca lombardella
- Dutch: kolgans
- Czech: Husa běločelá
- Danish: Blisgås
- Norwegian: Tundragås
- Swedish: Bläsgås
- Finland: Tundrahanhi
- Greenland: Nerleq
- Iceland: Blesgæs
- Inuit: Nerleq
- North Karelian: tunturihanhi
- North Samian: Duottarcuonji, Stuoragiljobaš
- Polish: Gęś białoczelna
- Russian: Белолобый гусь
Distribution – Movements – Wintering
Distribution: White-fronted Geese breed and moult in northern Eurasia and the northern parts of North America. In Eurasia breeding ranges are on Iceland and on the southern edge of the arctic desert and also in arctic tundra (mainly moss, lichen and shrub tundra) east of Kola peninsula. The largest contingency of breeding and moulting White-fronted Geese is on the south island of Novaya Zemlya (RU), in the north of Yamal peninsula, in West Taymyr peninsula and on the lower reaches of the Indigirka river. Large numbers of moulting geese also assemble in central Taymyr.
Wintering: White-fronted Geese winter in parts of central Europe and mainly in west and south Europe. The most eastern Siberian populations winter in India, eastern China and Japan and also on the American West Pacific and Atlantic coast.
North Canadian populations move southwards to the US and the Texan and Mexican Atlantic coastline. Populations from North Alaska move southwards to California and the western part of northern Mexico.
The White-fronted Goose breeds in arctic tundra on elevated pitches. During winter we find White-fronted Geese on meadows and pastures in the lowland and in coastal areas. Shallow bodies of water are essential. At times they also pay a visit to cabbage fields. They also appear on flooded fields.
Diurnal. Only in case of continuing disturbances, White-fronted Geese become partly nocturnal and feed during moonlight. They are gregarious birds and gather in larger groups.
Field Characteristics of the White-fronted Goose
The White-fronted Goose is medium sized and rather short-necked. Compact body. Adult birds have a prominent white patch at the base of the bill and black travers markings on the belly. Juveniles do lack these features. Long bill. Can be confused with Lesser White-fronted Goose.
Measurements & Voice
Size: 65-86 cm
Weight: 1,700-3,100 g
Wingspan: 135-165 cm
♂ = 389-463 mm
♀ = 389-461 mm
Voice: high-pitched calls, much more melodical than with Bean or Greylag Goose. Could sound like laughing. Not as loud as Greylag Goose but also quite chatty.
Sexually mature: White-fronted Goose become sexually mature between the 2nd and 3rd year of age.
First-time breeding: mainly in the 3rd year.
Mating Period: between March to April, life-long monogamous breeding pairs
Begin of breeding: in Greeland during last May decade until early June; during laying the ♂ guards the nest. In most of the Eurasian zone breeding starts early to mid-June, depending with the start of the snowmelt. Non-breeders stay in the breeding range but begin moulting in the second part of July and are able to fly again from mid-August. Breeding birds moult their pimaries during early August. That period lasts until 20th August when juveniles begin to fly.
Nest: The nest of the White-fronted Goose is built from plant material and is lined with downs from the start. The White-fronted Goose loves to bread close the nests of the Pergrine Falcon and Rough-legged Buzzard.
Clutch, Egg & Measurements
Clutch: (3-) usually 5-6 (rarely -7) eggs
Egg: oval, yellowish-white shell
Length: 75.7-88.5 mm
Width: 49.4-57.0 mm
Ø = 79.0-51.8 mm
Weight of fresh egg: 124-137 g, Ø = 127.2 g
Shell weight: 10.5-13.2 g, 12.0 g
Incubation, Fledging & Dependency
Recurrent Clutch: so far no data available. Though it is rather unlikely, considering the short breeding season.
Laying Interval: 48 hours
Begin of incubation: usually with the last egg or the penultimate egg.
Incubation: (26) 27-28 days. The ♀ is tasked with incubating while the ♂ guards the nest and provides food.
Hatching: the goslings hatch within several hours.
Fledging: Shortly after hatching the goslings leave the nest and follow their parents. They are instantly able to feed themselves supervised by parents. After hatching the birds gather in larger groups and goslings are led to heavy vegetated wetlands in order to provide cover. Juveniles fledge after 40-43 days. Juveniles fledges from around 20th August.
Dependency: Juveniles stay with the adult birds throughouht autumn and winter until spring, when the next breeding season begins.
Food: The White-fronted Goose feeds on plants, mainly grass. Only rarely vegetables and seeds are part of the daily diet. In coastal areas White-fronted Geese feed on marshland.
Longevity: Mortility with birds over 1 year of age stands at 30.9 per cent per annum. With individuals from Anser a. flavirostris mortility stands at 15.6 per cent per annum for adult birds.
Oldest Ringed Bird: The oldest known ringed bird of a White-fronted Goose reached 25 years and 3 months. Usually the average age stands at 16 to 17 years.
Enemies and Threats: The main threats impacting on population numbers are hunting and loss of habitat. Locally, especially in central Europe, habitats are lost due to a rising number of wind energy parks. It is an established fact that geese do not approach wind energy park areas.
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Glutz von Blotzheim, Urs et. al (HG), Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 2, Anseriformes (1. Teil), Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, Wiesbaden, 1979, Nachdruck der Auflage von 1968
Svenson, Lars et. al, Der Kosmos Vogelführer, Franck-Kosmos Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Stuttgart, 2. Auflage 2011
Svenson, Lars et al, Collins Bird Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe, Harper Collins London, 2019 2nd Edition.
Uspenski, S.M. Dr. habil, Die Wildgänse Nordeurasiens, Die Neue Brehm Bücherei, Band 352, A. Ziemsen Verlag Wittenberg Lutherstadt, 1965
Bundesamt für Naturschutz: Nationaler Vogelschutzbericht 2019 gemäß Artikel 12 Vogelschutzrichtlinie, report data from section Bl…E Winter Guests (pdf download German text)
Post Image of White-fronted Goose – by: ©Raymond Loyal
Egg of White-fronted Goose – by Klaus Rassinger und Gerhard Cammerer, Museum Wiesbaden – own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38182036
Al other post images of White-fronted Geese – by: ©Raymond Loyal
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