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Greater White-Fronted Goose

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Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren
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Licensed under CC BY 2.0

I was reading Theodore Roosevelt’s Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail recently when I ran across his description of heading out after a white-fronted goose by his ranch house on the Little Missouri River:

“Last fall a white-fronted goose lighted on the river in front of the ranch house, and three of us, armed with miscellaneous weapons, went after him; we disabled him, and then after much bad shooting, and more violent running through thick sand and thick underbrush, finally overtook and most foully butchered him.”

Sometimes also called a specklebelly, the greater white-fronted goose nests in the far north of North America as well as Europe and Asia. They are gray-brown with a white rump. And as you might expect, they have a white forehead which also runs down along the sides of the beak, thus the common name white-fronted goose. Their feet and mandibles are orange to pink. The common name specklebelly is a reference to the gray breasts that have blotches or bands of dark brown or perhaps black feathers.

The scientific name of this species is a good example of the descriptive nature of some scientific names. The scientific name of the greater white-fronted goose is Anser albifrons. Anser is Latin for goose, while the specific epithet albifrons is Latin for white forehead.

Goose hunters are familiar with this bird. And although the casual observer may not be, their call my be familiar. The call of greater white-fronted goose is quite distinctive and has been described as a laugh or perhaps a high-pitched yelp.

So, if you hear some Canada geese or snow geese overhead and hear a different, laugh or high-pitched yelp among the honks or cackles, there are probably a few white-fronted geese mixed in with the flock.

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of “Natural North Dakota” and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005 he has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for North Dakota’s newest newspaper, the Lake Metigoshe Mirror. His columns also appear under “The Naturalist” in several other weekly newspapers across North Dakota.
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