Anser albifronsgreater white-fronted goose

Geographic Range

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


In the summer, during the breeding season, white-fronted geese prefer to reside in riparian areas and the edges of aquatic areas such as lakes, streams, rivers and marshes. White-fronted geese are highly dependent on brush cover and woody vegetation. Nests usually occur on the ground, within 300 feet of water. White-fronted geese migrate south in the winter. Their preferred winter habitat includes agricultural lands with shallow standing water. If agricultural land is unavailable, they will also reside in freshwater marshes. Migration and wintering grounds do not differ. (Tesky, 1993)

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

Physical Description

White-fronted geese have a white band at the base of their bill, which is where this species gets its name. There is no differentiation in plumage between males and females, although males are usually larger than females. Feathers are typically a light brown on their neck, back and head. Their rear consists of darker brown feathers with white tips. Their belly is white. Their feet are orange and their beak has a pinkish tint. Their mass ranges from 1.93 to 3.31 kg, with a mean of 2.72 kg. They have a length of 64 to 84 cm and 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


White-fronted geese are monogamous and form lifelong pair bonds. Bond forming occurs in the fall and into the early spring. White-fronted geese are unique because the young participate in cooperative breeding. Offspring remain with their parents for 1 to 2 years. The yearlings partake in defending the 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. Incubation lasts 27 days on average. Maturity in white-fronted geese is reached at 3 years of age. Young remain with their parents for an entire year. The young are even known to remain with the adults during the following years nesting activities. (Fox and Stroud, 1988; Tesky, 1993; Warren, et al., 1993)

  • Breeding interval
    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 highly involved in parenting. With a long incubation period, nest protection and nest sitting is required from both sexes. Once hatched, the parents are heavily involved in rearing the offspring. Juveniles remain with parents for at least one year. During that year, adults guide offspring to winter habitats and teach foraging techniques. Additionally, they are taught how to rear their own offspring the following summer by aiding parents in clutch rearing. (Fox and Stroud, 1988; Warren, et al., 1993)


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


White-fronted geese are a social species. They have long lasting family bonds that result in breeding cooperation. White-fronted geese remain in groups of less than 30 after breeding, until molting. Outside of the breeding and molting period, white-fronted geese are known to be in large flocks that can contain up to 30,000 individuals. During migration, white-fronted geese are known to fly during the night time hours. (Birdlife International, 2012; Tesky, 1993)

Home Range

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

Communication and Perception

White-fronted geese mainly communicate visually and acoustically. Acoustically, these geese use a serious of honks to communicate and warn individuals. Additionally, white-fronted geese are known to use postures and hisses to communicate boundaries to foes. ("Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)", 2013)

Food Habits

White-fronted geese are primarily herbivorous. They feed on grasses, grains and berries. During the breeding season, white-fronted geese are known to feed on mollusks and aquatic insects. In the winter, white-fronted geese become exclusively herbivorous. During early winter waste, crops such as rice, soybeans and grains are eaten. In late winter, their diet shifts towards newly sprouted grasses and forbs. Their primary forage items include 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


Predation of white-fronted geese occurs mainly on eggs and hatchlings during the breeding season. Birds such as glaucous gulls and jaegers feed on unprotected eggs in the nests. Arctic foxes and red foxes also feed on unprotected eggs and goslings. Cooperative breeding of white-fronted geese is a significant anti-predator defense, having yearlings protect the nest is extremely beneficial in preventing fox predation. (Fox and Stroud, 1988; Tesky, 1993)

Ecosystem Roles

White-fronted geese can play an important role in wetland restoration and management. Seeds are constantly ingested and can be transported from wetland to wetland during migration. During the breeding season, eggs and yearlings can be a food source for many predators. (Tesky, 1993)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In the United States, white-fronted geese are a valued game species for hunters. Hunters provide funding to preserve wetland habitats by the purchase of the federal duck stamp. Additionally, white-fronted geese are a good food source for humans. (Tesky, 1993)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

White-fronted geese can easily become a nuisance animal to humans. Grains are one of the main food items that white-fronted geese eat. Crop damage may ensue from over-grazing; this can be assumed as their preferred wintering grounds are agricultural lands. (Tesky, 1993)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Overall, populations of white-fronted geese are stable. In the 1970's, a population in Greenland was threatened. Numbers dropped significantly due to habitat losses. After legislation was passed, the population recovered within twenty years and is 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.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own


active at dawn and dusk


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


a distribution that more or less circles the Arctic, so occurring in both the Nearctic and Palearctic biogeographic regions.

World Map

Found in northern North America and northern Europe or Asia.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.


uses sight to communicate


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.