Sunday, March 20, 2011

Richardson's Cackling Goose

Richardson's Cackling Goose  Branta hutchinsii hutchinsii

Well, that's what I'm going with anyway.  We have a number of these very small geese in our resident population.  I found this one a few days ago in a group of larger Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)

I immediately called it a Cackling Goose.  Then I started looking at various guide books and realized that Cackling Geese are usually darker in the breast.  Maybe this one is more appropriately called a Lesser Canada.  So I checked with two of my expert birder friends.  Their replies were somewhat conflicting.

I got busy on the internet.  Seems there's been a bit of reclassification going on since the original split off of these smaller geese from the larger-bodied Canada Goose group.

This is what David Sibley had to say about it in 2007

First, to clear up some confusion about the names of the species and subspecies: The former broad Canada Goose has been divided into a large-bodied, interior- and southern-breeding species, and a small-bodied tundra-breeding subspecies. The large-bodied group is still known as Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) while the small-bodied group takes the name Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii). This means that the English name Cackling Goose, which has in the past been more or less restricted to the smallest subspecies (the far western B. c. minima) is now the species name for all four of the small subspecies. This new species takes the scientific name of the earliest-named subspecies and becomes Branta hutchinsii.

Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii – Small-bodied group – 4 subspecies breeding mainly in tundra

B. h. hutchinsii – Richardson’s (or Hutchins’s) Cackling Goose – reportedly intergrades with parvipes throughout range in NWT and Nunavut, but this is uncertain. Small and rather light, pale breast.

B. h. taverneri – Taverner’s (Alaska) Cackling Goose – may intergrade with parvipes in interior AK. Merged by Palmer with parvipes but has unique mtDNA. Similar to leucopareia but slightly larger and lighter in color, with rounder head. Similar to parvipes but breast slightly darker.

B. h. minima – Cackling Cackling Goose – Smallest, with small bill and short neck but relatively long legs; variable color and pattern but typically quite dark brown with purplish cast on breast, bill stubby, straight to convex culmen, nail less elongated than leucopareia, white cheeks more extensive than leucopareia.

B. h. leucopareia – Aleutian Cackling Goose – includes asiatica (extinct). Larger than minima, with paler breast usually gray-brown to dark brownish; white collar usually complete and rather thick with blackish feathering at base of neck; head rather square profile; bill short, tapering to narrow tip and somewhat pointed nail; white cheek patches somewhat more restricted, nearly always black throat stripe.
To read his full account:

Also see:

All About Birds:


  1. Thank you for sharing this Kathy. Although an avid wildlife photographer I had no idea the smaller Canada Geese I see are actually a seperate species.

  2. Well its definitely smaller all right. This helps. On our listserv people are alway identifying all these small geese. Usually I'm just confused... actually on more than just geese. :)

  3. I look forward to seeing geese! Any day!

  4. Mike, I didn't exactly know the extent of the species separation myself. Thanks for stopping by.

    TB, I got so confused reading up on this subject, and like you, a lot of other things too!

    Brenda, I'm hoping once this current bit of winter storm business passes on, we'll get one of the Living Skies days and big flocks moving up your way