Greater White-Fronted Goose

This spring, there has been excellent opportunity for viewing greater white-fronted geese at our Goose Pond Sanctuary. Also known as “speckled-bellies,” these geese are visiting the Empire Prairie during their spring migration. White-fronts are a handsome, medium-sized goose with a gray-brown body, white on the forehead and base of the orange bill, and variable amount of black mottling on the belly.  It’s a treat to hear their distinctive, high-pitched klah-hah-luk call.   

Photo of a flock of flying white-fronts at Goose Pond by Arlene Koziol, Madison Audubon volunteer

Photo of a flock of flying white-fronts at Goose Pond by Arlene Koziol, Madison Audubon volunteer

On the first day of spring, Daryl Tessen, one of Wisconsin’s top bird watchers, counted 200 white-fronts at Goose Pond Sanctuary! These geese feed with Canada geese in surrounding picked corn fields. The white-fronted Goose has one of the largest ranges of any species of goose in the world, breeding in the arctic from Russia to Greenland. The North American midcontinent birds of the subspecies nests from the Alaska North Slope across the western and central Canadian Arctic.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated the fall 2014 midcontinent population at around 1,000,000. This population concentrates in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta during the fall and in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mexico during winter. This might explain why they are only found at Goose Pond during spring migration. 

Sam Robbins reported in Wisconsin Birdlife - Population & Distribution – Past and Present that white-fronts were a common spring and fall migrant in the 1800’s. They were then very rare for the first half of the twentieth century.  Sam wrote that from 1950 – 1990 “it is still a rare species that cannot be expected in the state every year!”  Sam mentioned that Goose Pond was a favorite stopover point for the species.  We have observed that their numbers have been increasing over the past 30 years. In the 1980’s it was a treat to observe a few white-fronts in the Goose Pond area.

As is true of many geese, it is reported that Greater White-fronted Goose pairs stay together for years and migrate together, along with their offspring. White-front family bonds can last longer than in most geese and some young stay with their parents through the next breeding season. Parent and sibling associations may continue throughout their lives.

Normally white-fronts will be in the Arlington area for a couple more weeks.  We hope you can visit Goose Pond and search for speckled-bellies.  There are also 3,000 Canada geese, 150 cackling geese, and over 700 tundra swans at Goose Pond Sanctuary.

By Mark and Sue Foote-Martin, Resident Managers, Goose Pond Sanctuary