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Cackling Goose

Branta hutchinsii

Length: 23 - 26 inches Wingspan: 40 - 45 inches Seasonality: Migration/All Seasons
ID Keys: Obviously smaller than Canada Goose, shorter stubbier bill, no white neck band, round head

Cackling Goose - Branta hutchinsiiUntil recently, the Canada Goose was considered a variable species which included four smaller sub-species.  Genetic analysis revealed that these smaller birds were genetically distinct, and they were thus grouped into a distinct species, the Cackling Goose.  When seen together, the size differences are obvious, as are the shorter neck, stubbier bill, and rounder head.  Cackling Geese breed further to the north and west than Canada Geese typically do.  There are multiple subspecies, with all but the Aleutian lacking the white neck band that many Canada Geese have.

Habitat: Different subspecies breed in different habitats, but typically along ponds and lakes or coastal wetlands.  In migration and winter, can be in a variety of habitats, often feeding in grain fields as do other geese.

Diet: Eats entirely plant matter, including seeds, waste grain, grasses and forbs, and berries.

Behavior: Will feed on land or in the water.  In the water, typically feeds by swimming on the surface and tipping to reach food items below the surface.  On land, will forage in open fields and agricultural lands.

Nesting:  Different subspecies nest in different areas, but typically builds a large cup-shaped nest of grasses, moss, and other vegetation, lined with down and body feathers.

Breeding Map: Breeding information for South Dakota unknown given the new split of the species, but in general, most Cackling Geese breed in northwestern Alaska or Canada. 

Song: Similar honking to Canada Geese, slightly higher in pitch.

Migration: Winters throughout much of the western half of the United States.  In summer, breeds in northern and western Alaska, and northern Canada.

Interactive eBird Map: Click to access an interactive eBird map of Cackling Goose sightings

Similar Species: Canada Goose

Conservation Status: Not a conservation concern, numbers are high.

Further Information: 1) BirdWeb - Cackling Goose

2) Audubon Guide - Cackling Goose

3) Cackling Goose

Photo Information: Photo taken on May 22nd, 2014 near Anchorage, Alaska - Terry Sohl


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Cackling Goose - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Probably only a winter visitor.

 Additional Cackling Goose Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
Cackling Goose - Branta hutchinsii