Greater White-fronted Goose

Anser albifrons

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 1994
  • Craig R. Ely and A. X. Dzubin

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Greater White-fronted Goose in North America.

See text for details and for the migration routes of Pacific and Mid-continent populations.

Adult Greater White-fronted Goose, Milne Pt., AK, July 1994

; photographer Kevin T. Karlson

With a nearly circumpolar arctic distribution, the Greater White-fronted Goose has the broadest range of any species in its genus and is the only New World representative of the five species of gray geese from the Old World. In North America, this species breeds in open tundra areas of the low Arctic from Point Barrow, Alaska (71°N) to northeastern Keewatin, Northwest Territories (71° 31'N), and it formerly wintered south to Chiapas, Mexico (15°N), thus having the broadest latitudinal range of any arctic-nesting goose.

The Greater White-fronted Goose inhabits natural wetlands and agricultural lands-a broad spectrum of habitats ranging from wet tundra, boreal forest mires, and coastal marshes in the temperate zone to semiarid grasslands, deserts, and montane valleys in the subtropics of Mexico. It is most commonly found west of the Mississippi River and west of 85°W longitude from the Yucatán Peninsula north to the base of the Melville Peninsula in Keewatin.

This is a sexually monomorphic species, generally monogamous, cryptically colored, and territorial while breeding. A long-lived bird, it maintains permanent pair bonds and provides extended biparental care to its young, often into the next breeding season and beyond. Gregarious and social except while nesting, it nests singly or in loose aggregations and lays three to seven pale tannish-white eggs. Unsuccessful pairs and some nonbreeders undertake a premolt migration to segregated molting grounds. During its nonbreeding season from August to May, this species forms flocks and stages and roosts communally, often in association with other species of geese. A highly mobile bird and one of our first fall migrants, this goose undertakes long seasonal migrations from Alaska to Oregon and from arctic Canada across the boreal forest to the northern Great Plains.

In North America, the Greater White-fronted Goose comprises two geographically distinct populations: Pacific and Midcontinent. Both have fluctuated dramatically since the early 1950s, with declines resulting from overexploitation and loss of habitat. This is a species avidly sought by sport and subsistence hunters. Over 1,000,000 birds inhabited North America in autumn 1994. A larger, dark brown subspecies, the Tule Goose (Anser albifrons gambeli), numbers less than 10,000.

Although the Greater White-fronted Goose has been well studied in Europe and parts of Asia (Cramp and Simmons 1977, Owen et al. 1992), only a modest published data base exists for its Nearctic forms, despite significant numbers of unpublished reports. Important bibliographies for the species can be found in Palmer (Palmer 1976), Cramp and Simmons (Cramp and Simmons 1977), Johnsgard (Johnsgard 1978), Bellrose (Bellrose 1980), Owen (Owen 1980), Fox and Stroud (Fox and Stroud 1981b), Weller (Weller 1988), Johnson and Herter (Johnson and Herter 1989), Smith et al. (Smith et al. 1989), and Batt et al. (Batt et al. 1992).

Recommended Citation

Ely, C. R. and A. X. Dzubin (1994). Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.