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greater white-fronted goose

Anser albifrons

What do they look like?

White-fronted geese have a white band at the base of their bill, which is where this species gets its name. Males and females have the same color plumage, but males are usually larger than females. These geese have light brown feathers on their neck, back and head. The feathers on their rear are darker brown with white tips. Their belly is white. Their feet are orange and their beak has a pinkish tint. They weigh between 1.93 to 3.31 kg, and they are 64 to 84 cm long with a wingspan of 51 to 65 cm. ("Anser albifrons White-fronted goose", 2013; "White-fronted Goose", 2013; "Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)", 2013)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    1.93 to 3.31 kg
    4.25 to 7.29 lb
  • Average mass
    2.72 kg
    5.99 lb
  • Range length
    64 to 81 cm
    25.20 to 31.89 in
  • Average length
    71.12 cm
    28.00 in
  • Range wingspan
    51 to 65 mm
    2.01 to 2.56 in

Where do they live?

White-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) are found in the Palearctic and Nearctic regions of the world. In the summer, white-fronted geese are found in northern Alaska and northwestern Canada. Their wintering grounds include the Gulf Coast region of North America. The other main population of white-fronted geese is found in the Palearctic region. They are known to spend their summers in Greenland and their winters in the United Kingdom. (Ely and Raveling, 2011; Warren, et al., 1993)

What kind of habitat do they need?

In the summer, during the breeding season, white-fronted geese are found near lakes, streams, rivers and marshes, in areas with brush cover and woody vegetation. Their nests are usually found on the ground within 300 feet of water. White-fronted geese migrate south in the winter. Their winter habitat includes farm lands with shallow standing water. If farm land is unavailable, they will live in freshwater marshes. (Tesky, 1993)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • temporary pools
  • coastal

How do they reproduce?

White-fronted geese are monogamous and form lifelong pair bonds. They begin bonding with their mate in the fall and into the early spring. Their offspring are unique because they stay with their parents for 1 to 2 years and help to take care of other offspring. Yearlings also help defend their nest from predators. (Fox and Stroud, 1988; Tesky, 1993; Warren, et al., 1993)

White-fronted geese breed once a year in the summer, beginning in late May. Clutches may include 4 to 7 eggs per season. Eggs are usually incubated for 27 days. White-fronted geese become mature at about 3 years of age. Young stay with their parents for an entire year and may even stay with them during the following year. (Fox and Stroud, 1988; Tesky, 1993; Warren, et al., 1993)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    White-fronted geese breed once a year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in the summer beginning late May to early June.
  • Range eggs per season
    4 to 7
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    26 to 28 days
  • Average fledging age
    45 days
  • Range time to independence
    1.5 to 2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 years

Adult white-fronted geese are very involved in parenting. Due to their long incubation period, both males and females must protect and sit on the nest. Once they are hatched, the parents are heavily involved in rearing the offspring. Juveniles stay with their parents for at least one year. During that year, adults guide offspring to winter habitats and teach foraging skills. They also teach their offspring how to parent during the following summer, by having the yearlings help care for their clutch. (Fox and Stroud, 1988; Warren, et al., 1993)

How long do they live?

The longest lived wild white-fronted goose was 20.3 years old. In captivity, the maximum age achieved was 47 years old. ("Anser albifrons White-fronted goose", 2013; Tesky, 1993)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    20.3 (high) years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    47 (high) years

How do they behave?

White-fronted geese are social. They have long lasting family bonds, which includes offspring helping their parents raise the young. After breeding, white-fronted geese stay in groups of less than 30, until they molt. Outside of the breeding and molting period, white-fronted geese stay in large flocks that can contain up to 30,000 individuals. White-fronted geese are known to fly at night during migration. (Birdlife International, 2012; Tesky, 1993)

Home Range

Outside of migration, white-fronted geese stay close to their nesting and routing sites. Foraging occurs within 20 km of their roosting site but white-fronted geese tend to stay within 4 km of their nests. (Birdlife International, 2012)

How do they communicate with each other?

White-fronted geese mostly communicate through sight and sound. These geese use a serious of honks to communicate and warn others. White-fronted geese are also known to use postures and hisses to communicate boundaries. ("Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)", 2013)

What do they eat?

White-fronted geese are mostly herbivorous. They eat grasses, grains and berries. During the breeding season, white-fronted geese may also eat mollusks and aquatic insects. In the winter, white-fronted geese are only herbivorous. In the early winter, they eat crops such as rice, soybeans and grains. In late winter, their diet changes to newly sprouted grasses and forbs. In general, they mostly eat white clovers, creeping buttercups, common dandelions, cockspur grasses, meadow barley, ryegrasses, bulbous foxtails, pendantgrasses and marsh arrowgrasses. (Ely and Raveling, 2011; Tesky, 1993)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • aquatic or marine worms
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Predation of white-fronted geese occurs mostly on eggs and hatchlings during the breeding season. Birds such as glaucous gulls and jaegers feed on unprotected eggs in the nests. Likewise, arctic foxes and red foxes also feed on unprotected eggs and goslings. Yearlings help their parents protect the nest, which helps to prevent fox predation. (Fox and Stroud, 1988; Tesky, 1993)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • aposematic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

White-fronted geese can help restore and maintain wetlands by constantly eating and transporting seeds from wetland to wetland during migration. During the breeding season, many predators eat eggs and yearlings. (Tesky, 1993)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Do they cause problems?

White-fronted geese may become a nuisance to humans. These birds may cause crop damage by wintering in farm lands. (Tesky, 1993)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • crop pest

How do they interact with us?

In the United States, white-fronted geese are hunted and make a good food source for humans. (Tesky, 1993)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Are they endangered?

Currently, populations of white-fronted geese are stable. In the 1970's, a population in Greenland was threatened due to habitat losses, but they recovered within twenty years and are no longer of concern. In the United States, white-fronted geese are protected by the Migratory Bird Act. (Birdlife International, 2012; Warren, et al., 1993)


Sam Schellinger (author), University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.


2013. "Anser albifrons White-fronted goose" (On-line). Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed August 18, 2013 at

National Audubon Society, Inc. 2013. "Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)" (On-line). Audubon. Accessed August 18, 2013 at

2013. "White-fronted Goose" (On-line). Ducks Unlimited. Accessed August 18, 2013 at

Birdlife International, 2012. "Anser albifrons" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed August 18, 2013 at

Birdlife International, 2004. "Species factsheet: Anser albifrons" (On-line). BirdLife International. Accessed August 18, 2013 at

Ely, C., D. Raveling. 2011. Seasonal Variation in Nutritional Characteristics of the Diet of Greater White-Fronted Geese. Journal of Wildlife Management, 75/1: 78-91.

Fox, A., D. Stroud. 1988. The breeding biology of the Greenland White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons flavirostris). Bioscience, 27: 1-14.

Tesky, J. 1993. "Index of Species Information Wildlife Species: Anser albifrons" (On-line). Accessed August 18, 2013 at

Warren, S., A. Fox, A. Walsh, P. O'Sullivan. 1993. Extended Parent-Offspring Relationships in Greenland White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons flavirostris). The Auk, 110/1: 145-148.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Schellinger, S. 2014. "Anser albifrons" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 24, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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