Today we went to see the Cackling Goose on the Turner's Falls power canal in Turner's Falls, in western MA., first found by James Smith on Nov. 5th. Cackling Goose is a species that was split from Canada Goose in 2004. I got lots of photos from every angle. Had to look through more than 700 plus Canada Goose to find this smaller goose. There are 4 subspecies of Cackling Goose. This one is called the Richardson's Cackling Goose, (Branta canadansis hutchinsii) the subspecies most likey to show up in the Northeast. At the end of this blog post, we summarize the information on the various subspecies.
Aside from it's smaller size, the head and bill shape stand out. The head has a flattened boxy look and the bill is a little less than half the length of the head. Note also the pale breast and the pale fringes to the wing covert feathers, making pale scalloped stripes on the sides. The white in the cheek patch of this bird was slightly dusky. Note there is no white collar at the base of the black neck color on this bird. Hutchinsii subspecies of Cackling Goose can sometimes show a thin white collar, but seldom do.
Note the slightly paler back color compared to this Canada Goose. Here you can see the size comparison and the comparitively longer bill on the Canada Goose.
From the back it was clearly smaller than the Canada Goose and looked thinner from the rear than the Canada.
Something in the sky made it look up. Here you can see that the underneath of the chin is all white. There is no black gular stripe running from bill to neck; the taverneri, leucopareia, and sometimes minima subspecies have gular stripes.
Here's another view of the chin, showing no center black gular stripe.
Here's another size comparison, again showing paler color of the Cackling Goose compared to the Canada Goose on the right.
Here's another size comparison. Note the Canada Goose's head also looks a bit flattened on top, but it has a much larger bill. When scanning through a big flock of Canadas to find the Cackling, we found it helpful to look at heads and bill lengths.
They're in synchrony here.
View from the back.
The Cackling is the smaller goose on the right. In this photo it's head looks very flat, with a steep angle from bill to crown, almost looking like it has a bump on the forehead. It really struck us how this goose could look rather different, depending on the angle it was viewed from.
Here's a "where's Waldo" photo. Even though the Cackling Goose was smaller than any of the Canada Goose there, it was not always easy to spot it. We had to look closely through the Canada Goose flock with a scope. Canada Geese can vary among themselves due to age and sex and nutrition. Male Canadas can be almost 50% larger than females.
Many of the geese took baths and stretched. Here's the Cackling doing stretching movements,
Looks like angel wings here.
Here's a digiscoped photo showing the geese line-up with the Cackling Goose in the front.
Another size comparison with the Cackling Goose in the middle. Canadas can look quite different in size just because of their distance and body angle.
Here's the Cackling Goose on the right in an alert posture with its neck stretched up. Cackling Goose is often said to have a a short neck, but clearly it can elongate the neck making it look much longer. The neck looks thinner compared to the Canada's.
Here's another view of the Cackling Goose on the left and nearest us, Canada Goose on the right. The Cackling's neck, which is extended, almost looks as long as the Canada Goose's neck which is not extended.
Can you find the Cackling Goose? This is good practice so next time you see some Canada Geese, look through them and see if you can find a Cackling Goose. Cackling Geese are rare in New England, but this year there are already a handfull or more of sightings.
I was using a Canon Mark II camera with a Canon 500 mm lens with a 2x teleconverter. Still I wish the geese were closer.
A small portion of the hundreds of geese we had to look through to find the Cackling.
Here is a brief summary of some information on the subspecies of Cackling Goose. Ratios for bill and head mentioned are just guidelines, since individuals can vary considerably.
There are 4 subspecies in North America of Cackling Geese. From largest to smallest:
taverneri subspecies summers in north to northeast AK; winters in Columbia River Valley, OR and WA to Central Valley, CA. It is called “Taverner’s Goose”; weight is 6 lb. It's the largest subspecies; head blocky but rounded; bill length to depth at base is about 3:2; bill length is 1/2 head length. Breast and back slightly darker than hutchinsii and B.c. parvipes; rarely has a white collar; most have a thin gular stripe (a dark line under the chin which separates the two white cheek patches).
hutchinsii subspecies summers in coastal Nunavut; winters in eastern NM to northern TX and south, also on the Gulf Coast of TX and w. LA. It is called “Richardson’s Goose”; weight is 5 lb. Medium-sized; head blocky with a steep forehead that angles to a flat crown that angles to the nape; bill length to depth at base is about 3:2; bill length just less than 1/2 head length. Pale-bodied with contrastingly paler buffy breast; fairly wide pale fringes to wing coverts and scapulars; seldom a white collar; no gular stripe.
leucopareia subspecies summers in western Aleutian Islands; winters in the Central Valley, CA. It is called the “Aleutian Goose”; weight is 4 lb. Small; head a rounded-off square; bill length to depth at base about 4:3; bill length clearly less than 1/2 head length. Breast fairly dark brown; usually a wide white complete collar, widest in front; almost always a gular stripe.
minima subspecies summers in northwest AK; winters in Willamette Valley, OR to Central Valley, CA. It is called Ridgway's Cackling Goose. Weight is 3 1/2 lb. It is the smallest subspecies; head and crown rounded; bill stubby; bill length to depth at base is 1:1; bill length about 1/3 head length. It's also the darkest subspecies; breast dark brown, sometimes with rusty or purplish tones; full, partial, or no gular stripe; most have no white collar.
The identification of the Cackling Goose subspecies is still being worked out. It may be impossible to distinguish the smallest subspecies of Canada Goose (B. c. parvipes) from largest subspecies of Cackling Goose (B. h. taverneri) due to variation in size and color within subspecies and size variation due to nutrition and sexual dimorphism (males average 8-12% larger in these subspecies), although bill characteristics are still useful.