Bird of the Week: Greater White-fronted Goose

The Republican Party Wants What This True Icon of “Family Values“ Has

Species: Greater White-fronted Goose (aka Specklebelly), or Anser albifrons

Family: Anatidae (Waterfowl, i.e., ducks, geese, and swans)

Star sign: Taurus

Rating: 14/10

Ideal Date: Trip to the waterpark with the beloved wife of ten years and their three beautiful children

Photo Courtesy of eBird

The Greater White-fronted goose is a special guy. The “White-front” of his name refers to a patch of white feathers on his face surrounding his bill; he’s also known as the Specklebelly, a whimsical name that comes from the black spots on his breast. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, he is “prized by many goose hunters.” As he should be! He is, after all, a very unique and powerful friend who deserves the attention — his genus is “Anser,” which contains “Gray” and “White” Geese, and he is the only Gray Goose native to North America! Wow! What an adventurous friend! 

This fellow isn’t just a brave explorer — he’s also a family man! Goose. Family goose? Whatever you’d call it, the Greater White-fronted Goose forms uniquely close relationships with its family members. Like most geese, these friends form monogamous pair bonds when breeding, but the marriage of the Specklebelly can last for years! Pairs of geese will stick together through thick and thin, migrating from northern Alaska to Mexico City and back without leaving each other behind. They also keep their kids in their lives, as children of these pairs can remain associated with their parents for years, even forming familial bonds with their siblings. Thus, these birds form big, extended family systems, which is NOT normal for birds. We love to see loving and supporting avian family units!

But even when supporting a big family, the Greater White-fronted Goose knows how to have a great time. These ganders like to play, and their silly, “infectious” games often serve as fun for the whole family. According to Cornell’s Birds of the World, this behavior generally occurs “during midday loafing periods on bright warm days,” as these wacky waterfowl perform “reverse somersaults in water, wing-flapping on water, and chasing in circles, often with diving.” One particularly fun maneuver is called “dashing and diving,” where the geese will zoom across the water, wings flapping everywhere, only to suddenly dive underwater— then they’ll surface and repeat. Since these geese are dabblers, they don’t dive underwater to get their food — this maneuver is just them being silly little guys, as is their right. 

This goofy goose is only a rare visitor to the Portland area, but if you’re lucky you may just get to meet it. The Greater White-fronted Goose is, as the name and genus imply, goose-shaped, smaller than a Canada Goose but bigger than a Mallard. Its calls are similar to those of the Cackling Goose, perhaps with a more chirpy quality. Males and females have identical patterning: they have bright orange bills and feet, dull brown bodies with sandy tan bars, and splotchy black barring on the breast. The rump is white; also note a white line along the side, around the bottom of where the wing folds. Also, of course, you should always keep an eye out for the eponymous “white front” on the face, surrounding the bill, which is its most conspicuous feature, as well as the one which distinguishes it from the very similar-looking Greylag Goose. In the unlikely but exciting event that you do encounter one of these geese, count yourself fortunate that you get to witness such a wholesome and whimsical wonder.

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