Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2011-67

Common name:

Cackling Goose

Scientific name: Branta hutchinsii
Date: 17 Dec 2011
Time: 4:40 PM
Length of time observed: 15 minutes
Number: 5
Age: unknown
Sex: unknown
Location: Logan River Golf Course, Logan
County: Cache
Distance to bird: ~20 yards
Optical equipment: Nikon 20x spotting scope, Nikon 10x42 Monarch ATB binoculars, Nikon D80 with 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR lens.
Weather: Overcast, cold (~25 F)
Light Conditions: Sun had just set below the Wellsville Range but the sky was still bright.
Description:        Size of bird: Considerably smaller than Canada Geese
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Goose shape.
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: White-cheeked goose
(Description:)            Bill Type: Shorter than those of Canada Geese, see below.
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
Easily identified as a white cheeked goose (Canada or Cackling). See "similar species" for elimination of Canada.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: None certain to come from these individuals.
Behavior: Loafing and foraging on the exposed (not snow-covered) grass of this golf course with a flock of 300+ Canada Geese.
Habitat: Golf course grass near the Logan River.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
These geese were mixed in with a large flock of 300 or more Canada Geese, apparently of the moffitti subspecies, for direct comparison. Unlike several of my previous observations of Cackling Geese, I did not notice and Lesser Canada Geese (B. canadensis parvipes) present for direct comparison, although we did both see a small group of eight Lesser Canadas earlier in the day.

The first indicator of these Cackling Geese was their small size relative to the adjacent Canadas. As we approached for a closer look, the geese went from foraging to an alert posture with their necks outstretched, which further emphasized the smaller size and especially shorter necks of the Cackling Geese. These Cackling Geese all appeared darker than the Canadas in their dorsal color especially, and to varying degrees in their breast and flank color as well.

Although all identifications should use multiple characters to reach a conclusion, the single best mark for differentiating Cackling Geese from Canada Geese is the shape of the bill. These geese all had the distinctively shorter bill, resembling that of a Ross's Goose, rather than the longer, more attenuate bill of a Canada Goose. Most (at least three, perhaps four) of these Cackling Geese were clearly identified as Richardson's Cackling Geese (B. h. hutchinsii) by their relatively pale breast (approximately concolor with that of the B. c. moffitti), paler than the flanks or back, and especially the angular heads. The heads were shorter from bill to nape than the heads of the Canada Geese, and the bill met the forehead at a relatively abrupt angle. The forehead itself came to an angle with the crown, and again a relatively distinct angle marked the transition from crown to nape. One of the Cackling Geese present seemed a bit darker and to have a somewhat longer head, al!
though still a stubby bill characteristic of Cackling Goose; I think this individual MAY have been a B. h. taverneri, but I didn't manage any photographs of that individual. The geese were milling about rather actively as they foraged in the short grass, frequently revealing and quickly concealing individual geese.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I have seen Cackling Geese on several occasions, including multiple observations in Utah but also in their more typical wintering ground in Washington State.
References consulted: None.
Description from: Notes taken at time of sighting
Observer: Ryan P. O'Donnell
Observer's address: 1098 Crescent Dr, Logan
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Guillaume Peron
Date prepared: 18 Dec 2011.
Additional material: Photos
Additional_Comments: Photo descriptions:
CACG_A: One Richardson's Cackling Goose standing at center, with Canada Geese.
CACG_B: One probable Richardson's Cackling Goose (possibly Taverner's Cackling Goose) standing, second standing bird from left, with Canada Geese. Note that the birds head moved during the low-light exposure and the head is somewhat laterally blurred, which could give a false impression of a slightly longer bill than the bird actually had.
CACG_C: Cackling Goose at right, with Canada Geese.
CACG_D: Richardson's Cackling Goose, feeding at right side of photo, with Canada Geese.