STATUS: Uncommon in fall and winter in Tennessee Valley and Inland Coastal Plain regions. Rare on Gulf Coast in fall and winter. Lowest Conservation Concern.
DESCRIPTION: Both sexes of the greater white fronted goose are brownish gray in coloration. Distinguishing characteristics include a white patch at the base of the pink or orangeish colored bill and dark brown to black blotches on the breast feathers. These irregular shaped bars or blotches are more prominent as these birds mature. Due to this feature many hunters have termed this particular species “specklebelly” or “speck”. Features such as orange legs and a white rump also help to distinguish this species from other geese.
DISTRIBUTION: The greater white-fronted goose is circumpolar in their breeding distribution except for a gap in the northeastern Canadian Arctic. Nesting areas include the arctic coast of Russia, northern Alaska and northwest Canada. “Specks” wintering grounds on the European continent range from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black and Caspian Sea, while in North America, wintering grounds range from California to Central Mexico. Greater white-fronted geese are not common along the eastern shore of the continental United States. Their numbers generally occur along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Texas and up the Mississippi River Basin. This species can primarily be seen in the Mississippi, Central and Pacific Flyways.
HABITAT: These geese prefer remote tundra areas near Arctic coastal areas for breeding. Wintering areas are usually within eight to ten miles of a food source and are associated with freshwater. Like other geese they often leave the marshes to feed in nearby stubble or agricultural fields.
FEEDING HABITS:White-fronted geese feed extensively on rice, water grass, milo and barley and will forage in shallow water by tipping up, similar to dabbling ducks.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Unlike other goose species, they do not nest in colonies. They tend to be solitary breeders with nesting occurring on both tidal flats and upland areas. Females select a shallow depression, building the nest from nearby plant material. Limited amounts of down are utilized in nest construction. Clutch size varies from one to eight eggs. Incubation is done by the female only. Average incubation period ranges between 27 and 28 days. Chicks are covered in down, with their eyes open. Generally speaking they will leave the nest 24 hours after hatching and will be led to water at that time. Once hatched, the male assumes the dominant role in brood rearing while the female takes a secondary role. Researchers indicate that the young grow rapidly and are capable of flight at approximately 45 days of age.
Family ties in the white-fronted persist longer than in other species of geese. Yearlings remain with the parents even during the nesting season.
These geese often migrate at night in large flocks. Flocks are typically composed of a number of family units. Specks can be identified by their characteristic high pitch laughing call, kow-yow, kow-yow. They are among the most vocal of the geese species.
Bellrose, F.C. 1976. Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America, 2nd. Ed. Stackpole, p. 8.