The Canada Goose. A presence so ubiquitous in our fall landscape that even non-birders can tell it apart from other birds. It has the distinction of being named after our country (way back in the 1700s) and even a brand of cozy winter clothing has taken on its name for their label. With the “curse” of being so common, many people may not even take a second look at individual birds. A quick note of the black head and neck, white “chin strap” and large brownish body, and they may turn their binoculars to search for something more interesting.
I invite birdwatchers to give an extra minute or two when observing a flock when out in the field this winter! If you are lucky and thorough, you may notice a bird in the group that is now considered a separate species from Canada Goose, called a Cackling Goose. Before 2004, the American Ornithologists Union (AOU) lumped all the variable sub-species of Canada Goose under that one name. Now, there are several sub-species under both names. There can be some confusion in identification where the two species overlap in appearance, with the smaller types of Canada Geese resembling the larger versions of a Cackling.
The main distinguishing feature of a Cackling Goose is its size. It’s like a mini version of the Canada. Some of the sub-species can be as small as a Mallard duck. Others are quite dark and have a white neck band. Determining relative size isn’t always a slam dunk, so other features to look for are the conical bill, sometimes referred to as stubby-looking, a short neck and a rounded head. Canada Goose generally has a more flattened look to its head and the bill is somewhat ski-jump in profile...more elongated than a “Cackler”. These field marks can also be seen in flight which is helpful when a big, noisy flock lifts up and heads off. Also, listen for the high pitched squeaky “cackling” sound of the smaller species. A good way to locate Cackling Geese in a gathering is to actually count the birds present. It slows down the tendency to overlook any interesting individuals tucked into the crowd and you may even discover a previously missed Snow Goose or Greater White-fronted Goose that had been hidden. Good Birding!