The Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons) is widely nicknamed Specklebelly, or just Speck by hunters because of their characteristically black-mottled bellies. Other colloquial descriptions are bar-belly, tar-belly, laughing goose and giggle chicken. Both sexes of this medium-sized goose are similar in appearance with pinkish or orangish bills, distinctive white frontal facial patch, overall brown-gray body with distinctive white hindquarters, a white line at top of side pocket, naval orange-colored legs. Male white-fronted geese are only slightly larger than females and may normally have more prominent barring on the underbelly. Like the white frontal patch, the belly patchwork is individually variable. Mantle, scapulars and retrials medium gray-brown with pale feather fringes forming traverse barring. Juvenil White-fronted geese can be distinguished as lacking both the black mottling and the white facial plumage. In flight, the White-fronted Goose’s secondaries and entirety of the primaries are dark gray, and a white horseshoe-shaped patch can be seen above the tail feathers. White-fronted Geese are arguably the chattiest goose species. Their call, which they make in flight, sounds like klew yo-yo or leek-leek, and is described as a high-pitched laugh. Expert callers have described speckle bellies as having 9 distinct vocalizations. “You have to know what they’re talking about before interrupting the conversation,” described one southwest Louisiana call maker during a morning hunt before making them do back flips towards the decoys on hearing his first note.
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North America’s Greater White-fronted Goose (A. a. gambelli, frontalis and sponsa) breeds in the arctic tundra. Several distinct breeding colonies are recognized, with the majority found in western and northern Alaska, the northern Yukon, and northern Nunavut. Of this, there are mid-continual and Pacific Flyway populations. Interestingly, most mid-continental white-fronts funnel into a narrow river valley between Alberta and Saskatchewan to stage.
Female specklebellies choose the nesting sites on the ground the in dense vegetation of shrubs, grasses, or sedges, typically on wetter soils. White-fronted geese are monogamous. remaining with their mates for life. Summer diet is dominated by plants such as sedges, grasses, and berries, while the winter diet consists of grains and seeds. Both emergent and submerged plants will be consumed. The mates and occasionally their young will migrate together. Specklebellies young will stop migrating with their parents when they reach the breeding age of ~2.5 years. This species, despite high territoriality during the breeding season, are very social and winter in large flocks in California, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and down along the Gulf Coast of Mexico.
During the past couple decades, both Pacific Flyway and mid-continental populations of White-fronted Geese have exploded, but the wintering distribution of mid-continental white-fronts have changed. As many as 80% of Greater White-fronted geese historically overwintered in southwest Louisiana, but now much fewer do. Many speckle bellied geese may continue migrating to southwest Louisiana, but soon bounce back north, into places like Arkansas. Abundant agriculture further up the flyway, combined with a changed landscape in Louisiana to include sugar-cane fields, commercial crawfish ponds and marsh deterioration, may contribute to specklebelly distribution shifts.
Learn more. Listen to Duck Season Somewhere Podcast episode: Specklebellies in Louisiana
TAR BELLY. SPECKLEBELLY. WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE. Historically short-grass prairie, the region is now predominately agriculture. Wheat, barley, oats, feed peas for as far as you can see in all directions. Listening to white-fronts’ incessantly melodious yodeling in the ink blue darkness before legal, I wonder how many more – or fewer – geese utilized the area back when it was native prairie grass instead of all-you-can-eat grain. It seems warm for goose hunting, but their biological migratory clocks are triggered by decreased daylight length. First the adult non-breeding white-fronts, followed soon by breeding birds and their offspring. And by around mid-October they’re gone. Southward bound. Geographical features are such that a majority of specklebellies funneling through an area I’d guesstimate about 350 miles wide, fanning throughout the Mississippi, Central and likely Pacific flyways after they get south of Canada.