Greater White-Fronted Goose
Last week there was a bit of a stir on the Ohio Birds email list about some interesting waterfowl at Prairie Oaks Metro Park here in the central Ohio area. So 3 days ago, I headed out to see what I could see.
The weather was cold and mostly cloudy when I arrived in the morning at the Darby Bend Lakes area of Prairie Oaks, west of Columbus. This part of the park consists of 3 man-made lakes adjacent to Big Darby Creek. This is a good time of year to see waterfowl there when the water is ice-free. The weather cooperated by early afternoon when the clouds cleared off.
Here’s a view out over the south lake. Rafts of geese and ducks swam on the lake, some dabbling or diving for food, others taking a nap with their heads tucked under a wing.
Looking closer at the waterfowl, you can see some familiar birds. I realize I’ve not covered waterfowl much on this blog, so I’ll have to postpone a round-up of all of the ducks, geese and swans that can typically be seen this time of year, some of which were present on the lake. I’ll get around to it one of these days! Or next winter! Hey, we’ve got some time, so no rush 😉
You might notice a stand-out bird in the above photo. At first, looking at it from far away, I thought it may have been a seagull, but a closer look shows something more interesting. I eventually worked my way around to the opposite shore, which was much closer to the bird in question.
Here’s a better view of things. Before looking closer at the white bird, look at the upper left of this photo. Among all the black legs of the Canada Geese, two pair of orange legs stood out, catching my attention. Also noticeable were a couple of orange beaks.
These striking birds are Greater White-Fronted Geese.
Greater White-Fronted Geese have a huge Arctic breeding range. They breed from Siberia to Greenland, as well as in northern Canada and Alaska. So what are these 2 doing in central Ohio?
These birds winter (in North America) along the West Coast and the Gulf Coast, mostly west of the Mississippi. They’ve been gradually moving eastward, but Ohio is a couple states away from their nearest migration corridor. This bird is a rare find here.
These 2 are likely a mated pair. Greater White-Fronted Geese form years-long relationships as mates. Their offspring have been known to stay with their parents through next year’s breeding season, and they may associate with their parents for life.
Since they breed so far north, these geese have a relatively narrow breeding window of opportunity because the Arctic summer is so short. Their numbers can depend upon whether that season is briefer or longer than normal.
There are different subspecies of this goose, not surprising because of their widespread geographical distribution. They get around!
Now, back to that mysterious white bird. It was much smaller than the Canada Geese it hung around. At first glance, it may be mistaken for a Snow Goose, but closer inspection shows it to be a Ross’s Goose, the smallest white goose in North America.
This bird breeds along the Arctic coast in the far north, and winters in Mexico (and states along the border). Much like the Greater White-Fronted, it has recently been moving east. But its migratory routes are all west of the Mississippi River.
I wonder how this bird showed up so far east alone. It seemed to stay around a few Canada Geese and went along with them when they moved. You can see how small a goose this is next to the larger Canada- they are typically 2 feet long.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife had this to say about them:
Our first record of this pint-sized goose came in 1982; since then there have been several dozen reports, and Ohio normally gets several birds annually. The increase in Ross’s goose numbers reflects the overall increase in Arctic-nesting goose populations and the eastward expansion of this species.
I was fortunate to see two Arctic geese in one trip that are fairly rare in Ohio. You never know when something unexpected will happen in nature. Duck and goose fans don’t worry, I’ll have more posts about waterfowl in the future…sooner or later!