White-fronted Goose

The White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons) is closely related to the smaller Lesser White-fronted Goose (A. erythropus). It is known as the Greater White-fronted Goose in North America.

Both of the white-fronted species have a very striking white face and broad black bars which cross the belly. These geese are 65-78 cm in length and have a 130-165 cm wingspan. They have bright orange legs and mouse-colored upper wing-coverts. As well as being larger than the Lesser White-fronted Goose, the Greater White-front lacks the yellow eye-ring indicative of that species. Also, the white facial blaze does not extend upwards so far as in the Lesser.

The Greater White-front is divided into five subspecies. The nominate subspecies A. a. albifrons breeds in the far north of Europe and Asia, and winters further south and west in Europe. In the far east of Siberia east to arctic Canada, it is replaced by A. a. frontalis, slightly larger and with a marginally longer bill, wintering in the United States and Japan.

Two other restricted-range races occur slightly further south in northern North America; A. a. gambeli in interior northwest Canada, slightly larger still and wintering on the U.S. Gulf Coast, and A. a. elgasi (Tule Goose) in southwest Alaska, largest and longest-billed of all, wintering in California. All these races are similar in plumage, differing only in size.

Finally, the very distinct Greenland White-fronted Goose A. a. flavirostris breeding in western Greenland, is much darker overall, with only a very narrow white tip to the tail (broader on the other races), more black barring on its belly, and usually has an orange (not pink) bill. It winters in Ireland and western Scotland.

Recent ecological studies suggest the Greenland birds should be considered a separate species from A. albifrons (Fox & Stroud 2002). Of particular interest is its unusually long period of parental care and association, which may last several years and can include grandparenting, possibly uniquely among the Anseriformes.