Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2008-02

Common name:

Cackling Goose

Scientific name: Branta hutchinsii
Date: 8 March 2008
Time: 2:20 PM and 5:45 PM
Length of time observed: 5 min each x 2 observations
Number: 1+
Age: Adult
Sex: Unknown
Location: South of 4600 N, East of Sam Fellow Road
County: Cache
Distance to bird: varied, estimated at 50 yards at closest and 200 yards at furthest
Optical equipment: Nikon Monarch 10x42 binoculars, Nikon spotting scope with 20x eyepiece, and Pentax Optio W30 digital camera
Weather: cold, mid-30s F, intermittent light freezing drizzle
Light Conditions: Bright overcast, occassionally dark overcast
Description:        Size of bird: Smaller than associated Canada Geese by about 30-40% of body volume, estimated larger than a mallard but none were available for direct comparison.
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Duck/goose shape. Neck relatively shorter than associated Canada Geese, with smaller, rounder head.
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Essentially the same as Canada Geese - brown body, brown wings, black neck and head with a white cheeck patch.
(Description:)            Bill Type: Black bill relatively shorter and with a steeper culmen than Canada Geese. Bill length estimated at about half that of the Canada Geese, perhaps 2/3.
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
This goose had a short neck, a small rounded head, and a relatively short bill with a steep culmen compared to the Canada Geese in the area. It was about 60-70% of the size (volume) of the Canada Geese. The chest was considerably darker than that of the associated Canada Geese. Also, its cheek patches seemed to be slightly smaller and shorter than those of the Canadas. There was no white neck ring on this individual.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: None could be distinguished as specifically coming from this individual.
Behavior: Foraging in a flock of about 1000 Canada Geese, one hybrid goose (probably Canada x Graylag), 1 Ross's Goose, and about 15 Snow Geese. Behavior generally identical to the rest of the geese, slowly walking through a field with recently spread manure, picking through the substrate and foraging.
Habitat: A large agricultural field with recently spread manure. Ground was saturated with snowmelt and pools formed in several low spots.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
The only species that could reasonably be confused with Cackling Geese is the closely related and recently separated Canada Goose. Canada Geese were abundant at this site and made for easy direct comparison. The Canada Geese were all larger by ~30%, had relatively longer necks, relatively longer heads (i.e. less round), and relatively longer bills with a longer, more gradually sloping culmen. The Canada Geese present all had a paler breast than the Cackling Goose.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I recently moved to Utah from Washington State, where both Cackling and Canada Geese commonly occur. Thus, I have several years of experience distinguishing these species in an area where they are both common.
References consulted: The Sibley Guide to Birds plus various online references.
Description from: Notes made later
Observer: Ryan P. O'Donnell
Observer's address: 1098 Crescent Drive, Logan, UT
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: This bird was also seen by Craig Fosdick, Keith Archibald, John Barnes, and Bob Atwood. However, I am not certain that all of these individuals independently identified the bird - they were more focussed on trying to find a Greater White-fronted Goose that had been seen in the same flock. I may be the only one who independently identified this bird in the field.
Date prepared: Submitted 16 March 2008 from notes compiled on the day of the observation, 8 March 2008
Additional material: Photos
Additional Comments: While I cannot provide enough photos to support this claim, I believe I saw at least three individual Cackling Geese in this flock of about 1000 Canada Geese and other geese. The first individual seen was as described above and was similar to the birds in the photographs but had a distinctive white neck ring in addition to the other distinguishing features of size and shape. I was unable to photograph this individual. While trying to relocate the Cackling Goose with the white neck ring, I found two other Cackling Geese which were both visible in the same scope view. Neither of these others had a neck ring, indicating that there were at least three Cackling Geese present in total. These two were photographed through the scope but may have been too distant for confident identification. These two birds are shown in the photographs "Cackling1.jpg" and "Cackling2.jpg", and one of these two is also shown in "Cackling3.jpg."

I returned to the area a few hours later and relocated a Cackling Goose that was much closer, and was able to obtain much better photographs of this individual. These photographs are labelled "Cackling4.jpg", "Cackling5.jpg", and " Cackling6.jpg". This individual also did not have a neck ring, but it may have been one of the two others previously observed.

The photos submitted have been adjusted in Photoshop to correct the color balance and contrast to most closely match what was observed, and arrows have been added to highlight the birds in question. I can provide unedited and unretouched originals if requested.