The Smallest Canada Goose, the Cackling Goose

by Larry Jordan on November 14, 2011

Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii minima) photos by Larry Jordan

Back in 2004, the 45th Supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union Checklist of North American Birds split the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) into 2 species, the Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii) and the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis).

I took these photos back in April last year at Lema Ranch but never wrote a post showing the difference between these two species (click on photos for full sized images). Better late than never I guess!

The first thing that you would probably notice is the size difference between the Canada Goose and the Cackler. It seems obvious but if you don’t see the two side by side, it’s sometimes hard to tell.

The Cackling Geese (Branta hutchinsii), the small bodied group which primarily breed in tundra, consist of four subspecies, Richardson’s (or Hutchins’s) Goose (B. h. hutchinsii), Taverner’s (or Alaska) Goose (B. h. taverneri), Aleutian Goose (B. h. leucopareia) and Cackling Goose (B. h. minima).

The Cackling Goose and the Aleutian Goose are the two subspecies we see here in the Pacific northwest. The Aleutian Goose is larger, has a paler breast and has a thick white collar at the base of its black neck. Range map of all Cackling Geese species courtesy of Terry Sohl from South Dakota Birds and Birding.

Within the species, there are trends in size from largest in the south to smallest in the north, and likewise in color from lighter in south and east, as well as in arid interior regions, to darker in the north and west1.

Note the dark breast, short black neck and short stubby bill on this Cackling Goose (B. h. minima), the smallest of the Cackling Geese, breeding in the far north western parts of Alaska.

Here is a photo of this bird with its neck fully extended.

And another with its neck pulled in

You can often find them in mixed flocks where the smaller Cackling Goose can be more readily distinguished from the larger Canada Goose.

To see more great bird photos check out World Bird Wednesday! And while you’re here, if you use Google Friend Connect, please consider joining my website via the widget in the right hand column of my blog and I will join yours in return.  Thanks for the visit!

References: 1Birds of North America Online

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

TexWisGirl November 15, 2011 at 5:57 am

Thanks for the education. The cackling goose is really quite cute with its short little neck and bill.


Andrew November 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Wonderful information Larry and thanks for sharing your lovely images of a beautiful bird.


CameraCruise November 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Beautiful photos of beautiful birds.
Thanks for the education. I have to take a closer look next time I see a Canada Goose.


Boom & Gary November 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Great series!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.


heyBJK November 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Wow, that IS a small goose! Didn’t know anything about them until now. Nice shots!


Mick November 15, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Great photos and very interesting description of the differences in the birds. Now I need to go back to my photos (from years ago!) and try and work out what I saw.


eileen November 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Great post, Larry! It will come in handy in I ever get to see the Cackling Goose. I will have to start checking them out a little more closely.


Larry November 15, 2011 at 6:46 pm

@Theresa true, they are very cute 😉

@Andrew thank you very much

@CC thanks! It’s always a good idea to look through flocks of geese to see if you notice any differences in the individual birds. There are also seven subspecies of the larger Canada Goose

@Gary thanks for stopping by!

@Brian thank you

@Mick I understand that the Canada Goose was introduced to New Zealand as a game bird. I can’t imagine what a catastrophe that has become. Introducing a huge goose onto an island country

@Eileen yes, check out those flocks of geese when you have time 😉 You may find some interesting variants


holdingmoments November 15, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Interesting Larry.

I should look through my local flocks of Canada’s a bit more thorough. One or two might turn up with them.


Arija November 16, 2011 at 4:33 am

Great to have the differences explained. Do the cackling geese actually cackle?


Mia McPherson November 16, 2011 at 5:26 am

Great comparison shots Larry, I love the little Cackling Geese.


Larry November 16, 2011 at 5:57 am

@Keith do that and let us know if you see any

@Arija the Cacklers have a similar call as the larger Canada Geese but higher pitch, but they also have what they call a cackle you can hear it here. They also have better flight skills than the larger breeds. From BoNAO “subspecies quite agile; actively chase aerial predators; capable of aerial acrobatics.”

@Mia thank you very much. They are cute aren’t they?


Dave Bancroft November 16, 2011 at 10:57 am

Smashing images with superb lighting.

Geese make great subjects to photograph, you did a great job. Nice species information,


Michelle November 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Hi Larry..I wasn’t familiar with this species at all and I appreciate the information…


springman November 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm

It was fun to see the difference between these species Larry. Beautiful job of photographing these geese!
Cheers to you Sir!


Pat November 17, 2011 at 9:39 am

Interesting, informative post! Great photos to illustrate the differences.


Jill November 25, 2011 at 10:39 am

great info and photos, Larry! I miss seeing these guys up on Humboldt. They’re pretty cute little fellows!


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