Greater White-fronted Geese

By Luke Matthews

As true to mid-October, many of the Pacific Flyway’s migratory waterfowl species have started to arrive from their northern breeding grounds. Early migrating ducks such as Northern Pintail, Northern Shovelers and Green-winged Teal are growing in numbers. Additionally, we are seeing a few scattered groups of Snow Geese that have made it down into the Sacramento Valley; however, we have not witnessed awe-inspiring numbers of white geese yet. Greater White-fronted Geese have arrived and are already feasting on rice grains that have been left after harvest.

Greater White-fronted Geese, also known more commonly as “White Fronts” or “Specklebellied Geese”, are the first of the migratory geese to arrive in the Sacramento Valley each fall. Typically these birds start to show up in the Valley during the month of September. This year they showed up en masse around September 17, 2021 and have been continuing to build ever since.

White-fronts have two distinct population in North America: the pacific and midcontinent populations. The midcontinent population breeds in the Arctic on the northern coasts of Alaska and Canada then migrate south and winter in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. The pacific population also breeds in the Arctic but are primarily found in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (YK Delta) of Alaska and these birds migrate down the Western US into the Central Valley of California and as far south as Mexico. Goose surveys, conducted in California, have estimated that the Central Valley supports nearly 800,000 White-front geese from the pacific population each year.

There are no good estimates of breeding production form the YK Delta this year. However, despite the drought conditions that have been plaguing the Western United States, breeding conditions have been good in Alaska and much of the Arctic. With good conditions on the breeding grounds we may see high juvenile recruitment and larger goose numbers this year. Unfortunately, with less water on the landscape throughout California, high concentrations of birds could cause disease outbreaks later this winter.

Luke Matthews is the Wildlife Programs Manager for the California Rice Commission