Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2011-05

Common name:

Cackling Goose

Scientific name: Branta hutchinsii
Date: 12 Dec 2010
Time: 15:06
Length of time observed: 44 minutes
Number: 1+
Location: Logan River Golf Course
County: Cache
Latilong: 3. Logan
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: Clear, sunny, cold.
Light Conditions: Direct sunlight, getting towards evening light.
Description:        Size of bird: Smaller than Canada Geese.
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Goose shape.
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: "White-cheeked goose"
(Description:)            Bill Type: Short, stubby, comparable to a Ross's Goose.
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
This goose was easily identified as a "white-cheeked goose" (Canada or Cackling) by its brown body and wings, black tail, white tail base and undertail coverts, black neck and head, and white cheek patches extending up from under the chin onto the face. This bird had a smaller, stubbier bill than the Great Basin Canada Geese and Lesser Canada Geese with which it was associating. Its neck was shorter and stockier. Its head was smaller and more rounded (i.e. shorter from the base of the bill to the back of the head). The culmen was straighter and shorter than the Canada Geese's, and formed a more abrupt angle with the forehead. The breast was about as pale as that of the Great Basin Canada Geese, perhaps somewhat paler. The flanks were obviously paler than the color of the wings from some angles, but about the same color from other angles. Body size was significantly smaller than the Canada Geese in all dimensions (shorter in total length, shorter in breadth!
, and smaller in volume). Photographs seem to show and absence of a black "chinstrap" bisecting the white cheek patches under the throat, but I am not certain of this feature.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: None known to come from this bird.
Behavior: Foraging on grass and then paddling around a small golf course pond with about 150 Canada Geese.
Habitat: Golf course pond.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
This goose was identified as one of the smaller white-cheeked geese (Branta canadensis parvipes or Branta hutchinsii) on the basis of its small size, short bill, and small relatively short head (from bill to nape). Separating the Lesser Canada Goose, Branta canadensis parvipes, from the larger two Cackling Goose subspecies, Taverner's Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii taverneri) and Richardson's Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii hutchinsii) can be difficult but I believe this distinction can be made for this individual. The bill was shorter and with a steeper, straighter culmen (less concave) than in Lesser Canada Geese, and formed a more abrupt angle with the forehead. The head was also shorter from bill to nape than in Lesser Canada Geese. Finally, although there is some overlap in body size between the largest Taverner's Cackling Geese and the smallest Lesser Canada Goose, this particular individual was smaller than the smallest Lesser Canada !
Geese I have seen in Utah. Some Lesser Canada Geese were available for direct comparison.

I believe Ridgway's Cackling Goose (B. h. minima) can be eliminated from consideration because the bill was not as short and stubby as it would be on a Ridgway's Cackling Goose. The breast of this bird was paler than the flanks, a condition that is reversed in B. h. minima, and this bird did not have the dark purplish-brown sheen seen in minima.

I believe B. h. leucoparia (Aleutian Cackling Goose) can be likewise eliminated because they have a white neck ring which is usually quite bold. This bird did not appear to have a white neck ring. This bird's breast was too pale, so much so that a white neck ring may have not been visible if it were present. Also, many B. h. leucoparia have a black gular stripe, which this bird seemed to lack.

I am not certain this bird could be identified to subspecies, because it shares traits of both B. h. hutchinsii and B. h. taverneri. The pale, almost whitish breast of this bird seems to argue for B. h. hutchinsii, but the rounded (not angled) profile of the head seems to argue for B. h. taverneri. In both of these traits, this bird matched well the front-most bird in Figure 14 and the bird in Figure 16 of Mlodinow et al. 2008, which the authors suggest should be left unidentified to subspecies.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I have seen thousands of Canada Geese around the country. I have seen hundreds of Cackling Geese, especially minima and taverneri, in Washington, where I used to live and often visit. I have seen Cackling Geese of various subspecies (most often B. h. hutchinsii) in Utah on 15 occassions. I have not seen B. h. leucoparia.
References consulted: Mlodinow et al. 2008. Distribution and Identification of Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii) Subspecies. North American Birds 62:344-360.
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: None of which I am aware.
Date prepared: 19 Jan 2011
Additional material: Photos
Additional_Comments: Description based largely on photographs, supplemented with notes taken at the time of the sighting.