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What is a Greater White-Fronted Goose?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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A greater white-fronted goose is a medium sized goose that is mostly brown in color with a few distinctive white patches. Its scientific name is Anser albifrons, and has one of the largest ranges for a type of goose, breeding in northern regions during the summer months, and migrating south in the winter. An extremely similar, but smaller, species s commonly found in northern Europe and Asia. The goose feeds on grains and other vegetation, and will also occasionally eat some invertebrates. It nests on the ground and both parents typically care for the young.

An adult greater white-fronted goose usually grows to a length of about 25 to 32 inches (64 to 81 cm), with a wingspan 53 inches (135 cm) wide, and it typically weighs between 4.3 to 7.3 pounds (2 to 3.3 kg). Its feathers are mostly dark brown, with some black bars on the wings and black mottled patches on the belly. It has white facial markings on the forehead and the base of the bill, and a white backside. The bill is a pinkish orange color and the legs and feet are orange. Young geese are very similar to adults in appearance, but they lack the white facial markings or the black patches on the belly yet.

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The greater white-fronted goose has one of the largest ranges for a goose species, from Russia and Greenland to parts of northern Canada and Alaska in the summer breeding season. It migrates south during the winter, to British Columbia and California, and as far as New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. It is not usually found east of the Mississippi River in North America. In northern Europe and Asia, a smaller species exists called the "lesser" white-fronted goose, which looks like a dwarf version of the greater white-fronted goose and is the reason the latter species is referred to as the "greater."

While on land, the greater white-fronted goose feeds by foraging and grazing while walking around. Common food sources include grains, seeds, berries, grasses, stems, and occasionally insects. While on the water the goose will feed while swimming by ducking its head under water to grab food in its bill, a process called dabbling. It eats primarily aquatic plants, but will also eat insects and small invertebrates like mollusks.

At breeding time, the greater white-fronted goose nests primarily on the northern tundra. Pairs of geese stay together as a family unit for years, often migrating with their younger offspring as well. The female builds the nest by making a shallow depression in the ground and lining it with plant matter and down, then lays 3 to 6 eggs on average and incubates them for a period of about 22 to 27 days. Once the young hatch, they are cared for by both parents, although they can swim and feed themselves right away. The young usually begin to fly when they are about 38 to 45 days old, but will remain with their parents for at least the first year of life.

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