White-fronted Geese Are Special for Some Waterfowlers

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White-fronted Geese Are Special for Some WaterfowlersLITTLE ROCK – Use the term “waterfowl:” in Arkansas, and the usual connection is with mallards, specifically the male mallard known as the greenhead.

There is another variety popular with many hunters, the white-fronted goose, also known as the specklebelly.

These are found in many areas the state, not in the large numbers of snow geese or even in today’s numbers of Canada geese. But white-fronted geese are around, they are huntable, and they are challenges for the hunter.

Goose hunting has grown in Arkansas in recent years. A shortage of ducks at times during hunting season has led some waterfowlers to go after geese. Another factor has been the large flocks of snow geese in the state for the past decade or two, partially attributed to the increase in winter wheat production in many areas of east Arkansas. Snow geese are too numerous in their far north breeding grounds, leading to an extended and liberalized season called a “conservation order” by federal authorities.

The season for 2008-09 for white-fronted geese is in three segments. These are Nov. 15-Dec. 1, Dec. 6-Dec. 24 and Dec. 26-Jan. 30. Daily bag limit is two, with a possession limit of four. As with other goose and duck hunting, both federal and state waterfowl hunting stamps must be signed across the face and carried by a hunter. Harvest Information Program (HIP) registration is also required.

White-fronted geese (scientifically, Anser albifrons) at a distance sometimes are mistaken for blue geese, the blue color phase of snow geese. “Blues” are a slate gray over much of their bodies. White-front–s are more of a brownish gray. “Blues” have white heads and upper neck; white-front–s have a white face but brownish-gray heads and necks. ”Blues” have pinkish legs and bills; white-front–s have yellow-orange legs and yellowish

The “white front” of the birds’ name is a little misleading. It stems from the white face, not the breast, which is a lighter shade of the brownish-gray of the body. But the belly is splotched with darker, nearly black, feathers, leading to the term “specklebelly.”

In size, white-fronted geese in general are a little larger than snow geese but smaller than Canada geese, a good bit smaller than the resident giant Canada geese subspecies that is common along the Arkansas River Valley and around some large lakes in the state.

The white-fronted goose has a different call from snows or Canadas and these birds’ one-note or two-note calls. Many hunters term the white-fronted call a yodel. Special calls for white-front–s are sold and used in the field.

White-fronted geese often hang around snow geese or at least on the edge of snow geese flocks feeding in fields. Arkansas goose hunters use large numbers of decoys for snow geese, and these seem to work for white-front–s also.

Most goose hunters believe white-fronts are more wary – and thus more challenging – than either snow geese or Canada geese.