White-fronted goose

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The white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) is a visitor to the United Kingdom from Greenland and Siberia between October and April.

It is perhaps the most easily recognised of the grey geese, with its white forehead ‘blaze’ and its transverse black belly markings. It measures 26-30 inches in length (66-76 cm). The sexes are alike in appearance. In flight, the darker forewing of the white-front distinguishes it from the pink-footed goose.

The plumage of immature birds shows fewer contrasts than the adult’s, and it lacks a white forehead. Orange legs and a paler chest distinguish it from the pink-footed goose.

Those that come to Western Scotland or Ireland are from Greenland, and have orange-yellow bills. Visitors to England breed in the far north of Russia; they have pinkish bills. White-fronted geese favour freshwater marshes and water-meadows during their winter stay in Britain.

In flight, white-fronts may be distinguished by their call, which is higher pitched than that of other common geese. Even shriller in its call is the lesser white-fronted goose (Anser erythropus), which is classed as an ‘accidental’: flocks do not habitually migrate to Britain, but a few arrive among other species almost every year. It breeds in Arctic Scandinavia and Russia, and normally winters in the Balkans and south-west Asia.

Flocks feed at night if the moon is bright. They graze on pastures, plant shoots and grain.

Like greylags, mating white-fronts pair for life, and reinforce their bond by repeating a similar courtship ‘triumph ceremony’ whenever they meet.

The nest is little more than a depression in the ground, lined with grass and down. Incubation takes up to 4 weeks, and the young fledge after 5 to 6 weeks.

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