GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE – (Anser albifrons)
The Greater White-fronted Goose is a large goose with a brown scaly pattern. The breast can be lighter, or have some dark brown blotches, and also on the abdomen. The rump is white, and the bill and legs are orange. The white ‘front’ is a white band surrounding the base of the upper mandible of the bill. The birds measure around 80 cm (30 in.) long. Both sexes are similar, with the male usually larger. There are several subspecies, each with their specific geographic areas.
The English adjective ‘Greater’ in the name implies that there is a ‘Lesser’ White-fronted Goose, a related species and quite similar, if not for the size. The English name ‘Goose’ would have different origins, such as Dutch and German ‘Gans’, Old Norse ‘Gas’, even Spanish ‘Ganso’. Then this would relate the name to Latin ‘anser’ for ‘goose’. The Latin name ‘Anser’ stands for ‘goose’, and ‘albifrons’ is Latin for ‘white forehead’.
The summer habitat of the greater white-fronted goose is the tundra wetland, and in the winter they can be found in flocks foraging on fields or marshes and lakes. They feed on plant material such as seeds, grass or small fruit.
Greater white-fronted geese build a nest from a scrape on the ground. They form pairs that last for many years, and when migrating the young accompany their parents.
The greater white-fronted goose does not breed on PEI, and sightings of this species of bird on the island have been reported as ‘accidental’ in spring and summer, and as ‘rare’ or ‘uncommon’ in the fall. This goose breeds in the high Arctic around the globe, so sightings on PEI occur during migration. The wintering grounds of the greater white-fronted goose vary according to the breeding areas – the southern USA and the Gulf coast for the groups breeding in the Canadian Arctic, for example, and specific areas in Germany, central Europe, Iraq and coastal China and Japan, for the groups breeding in the Russian Arctic.
Conservation: the population of the greater white-fronted goose has fluctuated over the last few decades, but the species is not listed as being of special concern. In its breeding areas, it is vulnerable to oil spills and other forms of sea pollution.