White-fronted Goose

Anser albifrons

65-78cm

Appearance

The White-fronted Goose is most easily distinguished by the blaze of white on its forehead. This bird is smaller than the Greylag, but larger and longer necked than the Pink-footed Goose. It's a grey-brown colour with varied black patches on its underparts. Across its brown back are pale lines, and it has white margins on its wings, less obvious than on the plumage of the Bean Goose. There are two subspecies that migrate to the UK in the winter, each with their own clear destination; there is minimal overlap between these areas. The Greenland White-fronted Goose has darker plumage than its Eurasian counterpart, and its bill is orange where the Eurasian Goose has a pink one. Both subspecies have orange legs and a characteristic white tip on the bill. The Eurasian goose has a shorter neck than the Greenlandic, and it is paler on the head, belly and back. Juveniles of both subspecies lack the white forehead and black bars across the breast.

Habitat

This winter visitor is usually loyal to previous roosts, returning time after time. It prefers low-lying, wet grassland near coastal marshes, saltings, lakes and river valleys and flooded land. The Eurasian White-fronted Goose migrates to southern England and south Wales, while the Greenland goose is found in Ireland and north and west Scotland. In a strong year, the numbers of both species combined can be over 20 000. At these times, it can be possible to come across flocks with hundreds, even thousands, of birds.

Character

The White-fronted Goose is known for its agility - it can rise from the ground almost vertically. Roosting flocks are made of numerous family units; at dusk and dawn, they make their way to and from their nests, flying in a 'V' formation or in the line of a chevron. Bigger flocks disperse into smaller feeding groups during the day.

Food

This goose eats a vegetarian diet of leaves, stems, roots and seeds. During the winter, it lives off grains, potatoes, sugar beet, horsetails, rhizomes of couch grass and roots of cotton grass.

Breeding

Pairs come together after two years, but do not normally breed until they are three years of age. These partnerships are usually for life and both parents minister to their young. Families stay unified until breeding time the following year, and the preceding year's young still associates with the family group. The families who are sharing breeding grounds associate with one another after hatching.

Population

3 000 of the Eurasian subspecies spend winter in England and 13 000 Greenland birds migrate to Scotland, with a further 8 000 in Ireland. The geese arrive in October and depart in March or April.

Observation Tips

These birds have been known to be unaffected by human observers, so there is great potential for close-up views. Some of the best areas to observe the species include Slimbridge, north Norfolk, Islay and the Wexford Slobs in Ireland.

Voice

There is a laughing quality to the goose's call, and its higher-pitched than the Greylag. While it's flying, the bird makes a bark-like sound in a musical fashion.
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