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The Cackling Goose, with its distinctive black head, small bill, and compact build, has long intrigued ornithologists and bird enthusiasts alike. Once considered a subspecies of the Canada Goose, this diminutive bird is now recognized as a distinct species, sparking renewed interest and study.

Its presence in various regions, including the Pacific Northwest, California's Central Valley, and the southern Great Plains, has raised questions about its nesting habits, migration patterns, and interactions with other waterfowl.

As we delve into the intricacies of the Cackling Goose, we will explore its unique characteristics, foraging behaviors, and the captivating call that sets it apart in the avian world.

Key Takeaways

  • The Cackling Goose has several subspecies, each with unique characteristics such as a compact build, long neck, changes in head shape, or small size.
  • Its anatomy includes a short neck, small bill, and steep forehead, and it primarily feeds on herbivorous diets.
  • The Cackling Goose has iridescent feathers on its neck, which add to its visual appeal, particularly in direct sunlight.
  • It nests in remote northern Canada and Alaska, with females laying 4-6 white eggs and incubation lasting around 25-27 days. The young geese can find their own food immediately and stay with their parents for about 12 months.

Cackling Goose Identification Overview

identification of cackling geese

Identifying the Cackling Goose involves recognizing distinct physical characteristics across its various subspecies.

The Aleutian subspecies displays a compact build, black head, large white cheek patch, and white collar at the base of the black neck sock.

On the other hand, the Taverner's subspecies is recognized by its long neck and pale brown body, similar to the Canada Goose's shape.

The Richardson's subspecies changes in head shape from rounded to boxy.

The minima subspecies is known for its small size and dark breast.

These unique physical traits help bird enthusiasts identify the Cackling Goose in North American regions, making it a helpful entry in any Bird Guide.

Cackling Goose Identification Characteristics

The Cackling Goose's identification characteristics are primarily based on its physical features.

The subject, the Cackling Goose, is smaller than the Canada Goose.

The object, its distinguishing features, encompasses a small and compact body, short neck, small bill, and steep forehead, specifically in the Aleutian subspecies.

For the Richardsons subspecies, the unique characteristics are a rounded to boxy head shape, small triangular bill, short neck, and neatly barred upperparts.

The Taverners subspecies, on the other hand, is known for a longer neck and paler brown body, closely resembling a Canada Goose.

A key point to note is the prominent white U on the dark uppertail when the Cackling Goose is in flight. The goose also exhibits a mostly brown body, black neck, and head, and a white cheek.

These identification characteristics make the Cackling Goose distinguishable from other species.

Anatomy and physiology

study of body structure

The Cackling Goose is a small and compact bird, characterized by specific anatomical and physiological features. A clear understanding of these features is provided by a detailed study of its anatomy and physiology.

  • The bird's physical attributes, such as a short neck, small bill, and steep forehead, are its key anatomical characteristics.
  • The coloration of the Cackling Goose varies, signifying diversity among its subspecies.
  • An integral part of its anatomy is its high-pitched call.
  • From a physiological perspective, the bird primarily feeds on herbivorous diets. It consumes graminoids in summer and prefers a diet with higher carbohydrate content in fall and winter.
  • The complexity of the Cackling Goose's taxonomy is evident in its four subspecies: Richardsons, Taverners, minima, and Aleutian, each distinguished by unique physical and physiological traits.

Iridescent Feathers on Neck

colorful feathers on bird

The Cackling Goose, a subspecies of the Canada Goose, has iridescent feathers on its neck. These feathers possess a shimmering effect in the light, often displaying a green or purple sheen. The iridescence, particularly noticeable in direct sunlight, augments the goose's visual appeal.

This feature contributes to the identification of the Cackling Geese and enhances their attractiveness in their natural habitats, primarily the North and the Aleutian Islands during winter. This characteristic iridescence on the neck of the Cackling Goose presents an entrancing display.

Nesting Habits

birds nesting behaviors

The Cackling Goose's nesting habits involve choosing islands in small lakes or marshes within the vast arctic tundra. Reflecting the unique behavior of this Canada Goose subspecies, these habits include several key factors:

  • The geographical location for nesting is remote northern Canada and Alaska, with geese nesting either individually or in colonies.
  • The process involves the female laying 4-6 white eggs, which over time, become nest-stained.
  • The incubation period lasts between 25 and 27 days, after which both parents tend to the young who are capable of finding their own food immediately.
  • The young geese stay with their parents for around 12 months, and leave the nest 1-2 days post-hatching under the guidance of their parents.

These habits are vital for the continuity of the Cackling Goose species, particularly in its winter habitats in the Aleutian Islands and western Alaska where they often form flocks with other species.

Fall Migration Route

birds annual migration path

In the fall, the Cackling Goose migrates from Alaska and the Canadian Arctic to the southern United States. This migration involves distinct routes for different population groups. The Cackling Geese from Alaska mainly migrate to California. Those from the central Canadian Arctic migrate to the southern Great Plains and the western Gulf Coast.

These geese can be spotted in the Pacific Northwest, California's Central Valley, the southern Great Plains, and the Texas/Louisiana coast during migration. However, their identification is challenging due to their hybridization with Canada Geese.

The Cornell Lab aids in their identification and conservation by providing updates about these geese species. They provide aid for over 650 North American bird species.

Cackling Goose Call Description

The high-pitched call of the Cackling Goose distinguishes it from other similar species. This call is characterized by a series of rapid, high-pitched sounds, distinct from the honking of larger species. Variations exist among the four subspecies, namely minima, leucopareia, hutchinsii, and taverneri.

The physical features of these geese, such as their compact size, small bill, short neck and a noticeable white U on their dark uppertail while flying, also set them apart. When these geese form mixed flocks with other species, their call becomes an identifying feature.

The nuances of their calls assist bird enthusiasts in accurately identifying and conserving these white-cheeked geese during migration.

Are Cackling Geese and Canada Geese the Same Species?

Cackling Geese and Canada Geese are not the same species, but they are closely related. Both are part of the Branta genus of geese. Cackling Geese are smaller and have a shorter neck compared to Canada Geese. They are an arctic bird known for warmth and can be found in Canada and the northern United States during the winter months.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Cackling Geese Rare?

Cackling Geese are not rare is the straightforward response to the query. These birds are commonly found in locations such as the Pacific Northwest, California's Central Valley, southern Great Plains, and the Texas/Louisiana coast during migration times and the winter season. Yet, their complex taxonomy and the occurrence of hybridization can create difficulties in identification.

What Is Another Name for a Cackling Goose?

The Cackling Goose is also referred to as 'Branta hutchinsii.' This species exhibits four subspecies, which include minima, leucopareia, hutchinsii, and taverneri. Until 2004, the Cackling Goose was thought of as a collection of smaller subspecies belonging to the Canada Goose.

How Do You Identify a Cackler Goose?

To identify a Cackler Goose, you need to observe its distinct features. This goose species is characterized by its size, which is smaller than the Canada goose. The Cackling Goose displays a shorter neck and a stubbier bill, setting it apart from its relatives. Observing the bird's unique calls and behavior also helps in distinguishing it.

Why Is the Cackling Goose Endangered?

The Cackling Goose is endangered due to threats from predators that were introduced into its habitat and the impacts of climate change. This is especially true for the Aleutian subspecies. Despite increases in the population of some subspecies, conservation measures remain vital.


In conclusion, the Cackling Goose is a distinct species with unique characteristics. It has a black head and neck, a white cheek patch, and is smaller in size compared to other geese. Its nesting habits in arctic tundra and foraging behavior in open environments make it an interesting subject for study.

The recognition of the Cackling Goose as a separate species from the Canada Goose in 2004 has provided valuable insights into the diversity of geese in North America.