GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE

Anser albifrons frontalis

Status: Common regular spring and fall migrant central, fairly common east, rare west. Rare regular summer visitor central and east, rare casual west. Rare regular winter visitor central and east, rare casual west.

Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM12412, 1937 or 1938 Lancaster Co.

Taxonomy:  Taxonomy of this species in North America has been in a confused state for some time (Ely and Dzubin 1994). The name frontalis is currently in general use for the most numerous subspecies, breeding on Arctic tundra from northeastern Siberia eastward to Hudson Bay, and migrating through Nebraska to winter in southeastern Texas and northeastern Mexico and more recently in the lower Mississippi River region such as Arkansas and Louisiana (Mark P. Vrtiska, personal communication).

See “Comments” below for further discussion of names used for North American White-fronted Geese.

Changes since 2000:   The status of this species, particularly in spring, has changed over recent decades.  As late as the 1980s, as many as 1,000,000 birds, more than half of the North American White-fronted Goose population, migrated through Nebraska between Arctic breeding grounds and Gulf Coast wintering areas.  It was also estimated that up to 90% of the midcontinent population of Greater White-fronted Geese staged in the Rainwater Basin (Gersib et al 1989; LaGrange 2007). Over the last decade or so, smaller numbers have been observed in central Nebraska and in the Rainwater Basin with larger numbers reported from eastern Nebraska and Iowa, as well as areas west of the Rainwater Basin (Mark P. Vrtiska, NGPC, personal communication).  The change in migratory patterns may be in response to a number of variables, including increased numbers of Snow Geese staging in central Nebraska as well as from disturbance from the spring light goose conservation order.

Spring:  Feb 2,3,5 <<<>>> Apr 25,26,27

Migration typically begins in mid-Feb as weather and water conditions allow and continues through late Apr, with largest concentrations occurring in early Mar. Several winter and summer records make it difficult to determine spring arrival dates, but migrants are usually in flocks rather than the singles or very small (family?) groups that occur in winter and summer. Early and late dates above include only those reports of >5 individuals. An early flock was the 71 at Branched Oak Lake, Lancaster Co 23 Jan 2017.

  • High counts100,000 at Funk WPA, Phelps Co 12 Mar 1994, 20,000 in Hall Co 13 Mar 2018, and 10,000 at Harvard WPA, Clay Co 28 Feb 2006.

Summer: Reports are fewest between early May and late Sep, most of which are injured single birds unable to migrate and, on occasion, their mates. Small summering groups may be family groups with one member unable to migrate, such as the four at Harvard WPA, Clay Co 5 Jul 1995 (Jorgensen 2012). Westernmost reports are from Lake Ogallala, Keith Co, where at least one apparently summered in both 2013 and 2005, one was present 12 Jun 2003, and one was at Oliver Reservoir, Kimball Co 5 Sep 2016.

Fall:   Oct 4,4,8 <<<>>> winter

Migration begins in early Oct and continues into Dec, with a peak in mid-Oct. The 18 apparent early migrants at Alma, Harlan Co 5 Aug 2000 was a large number for the date. High counts are much lower in fall, as flocks appear to overfly Nebraska during periods of favorable weather (Jorgensen 2012).  West of Lincoln Co in the Platte River Valley this species is rare (Rosche 1982, 1994, Brown and Brown 2001).

  • High counts: 2000 in Lincoln Co 21 Oct 2007, 1500 in Richardson Co 15 Oct 2009, and 1000 in Lancaster Co 26 Oct 2011.

Winter:  Reports are fewest from early Jan through early Feb, most from central Nebraska. Reports of stragglers into late Dec are not uncommon, and individual birds or small groups are sometimes found wintering with flocks of Canada and Cackling Geese. Unusual for the date, however, was a count of 5000+ in the eastern Rainwater Basin 17 Dec 1998. There are <15 Panhandle records for early Jan through early Feb.  Five of those records were birds harvested by hunters since 2013 (NGPC, unpublished data) and “a few” wintered in Scotts Bluff Co 2010-2011.  These recent records suggest the species is slowly increasing as a winter visitor to the Panhandle.

Comments:  The name gambeli (note spelling) has been used for the larger, darker California birds, known as Tule Goose (Ely and Dzubin 1994). In order to remove confusion with the epithet gambelli (note spelling), Delacour and Ripley (1975) replaced gambeli with the subspecific epithet elgasi for Tule Goose. Banks (2011) named a new subspecies, A. a. sponsa, for a population breeding in western Alaska; it does not occur in Nebraska during migration or winter. Furthermore, Banks (2011) retained the name gambelli for the tundra-breeding mid-continent population. Thus, according to Banks (2011), the three North American taxa are elgasi, sponsa, and gambelli.

However, a case can be made for restricting the name gambelli to the little-known easternmost of the two taiga-breeding populations breeding on Old Crow River Flats, Yukon, about 175 miles west of the  MacKenzie River Delta (Palmer 1976), and using frontalis for the abundant mid-continent tundra-breeding population; we have followed this convention here, although Banks (2011) and Ely (personal communication), believe these MacKenzie River Delta birds to be within the range of variation of gambelli (sensu Banks 2011) and thus not separable from them.

The Tule Goose (elgasi, formerly gambeli but note spelling) is the other, westernmost taiga-breeding population; the two populations use separate breeding, migration, and wintering areas (Palmer 1976) with minimal crossover between flyways (Ely and Dzubin 1994).

Occurrence of the taiga-breeding populations has not been documented in Nebraska, although one photographed in Keith Co 13 Jan 2018 (NA; Photos) is suggestive;  there have been sightings of large, dark (“chocolate-colored”) White-fronted Geese in the North American Interior (Nick Lyman, Martin Reid, personal communication; see link).  In addition, band recoveries in Kansas and south-central Texas in the early 1980s of Tule Geese banded in the Pacific Flyway (four out of about 300 birds banded) suggest a crossover of migrants from the Pacific to Central Flyways of about 1% (Craig Ely, personal communication).

Abbreviations

NGPC:  Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WPA: Waterfowl Production Area (Federal)

Acknowledgement

Mark P. Vrtiska provided access to harvest data and numerous helpful comments that improved this species account.  Photograph (top) of a Greater White-fronted Goose near Wood River, Hall County, on 6 April 2012 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Banks, R. C. 2011. Taxonomy of Greater White-fronted Geese (Aves: Anatidae). Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. 124: 226-233.

Brown, C.R., and M.B. Brown. 2001. Birds of the Cedar Point Biological Station. Occasional Papers of the Cedar Point Biological Station, No. 1.

Delacour, J., and S.D. Ripley. 1975. Description of a new subspecies of the White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons. American Museum Novitates 2565.Palmer, R.S., ed. 1976. Handbook of North American birds. Vol. 2. Waterfowl (Parts 1 and 2). Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.

Ely, C.R., and A.X. Dzubin. 1994. Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.131.

Gersib, R.A., B. Elder, K.F. Dinan, and T.H. Hupf. 1989. Waterfowl values by wetland type within Rainwater Basin wetlands with special emphasis on activity time budget and census data. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Grand Island, Nebraska, USA.

Jorgensen, J.G. 2012. Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

LaGrange, T. 2007. Guide to Nebraska’s wetlands and their conservation needs. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska. Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2017.  Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), Version 1.0. In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org


Birds of Nebraska – Online