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Species Guide
A photo of a Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii)
Cackling Goose

Cackling Goose

Branta hutchinsii

The Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii) is a North American bird that bears a striking resemblance to the larger Canada Goose, with its distinctive black head and neck, punctuated by a white "chinstrap". The species is variable in size and plumage, with up to five subspecies, each with their own unique characteristics. The smallest of these, the B. h. minima, is notably smaller than any Canada Goose, while the B. h. hutchinsii can grow to match the size of some Canada Goose subspecies.

Identification Tips

To identify the Cackling Goose, look for its black head and neck with the characteristic white cheek patches that extend under the throat. The body plumage is generally brownish, and the bird has a short bill, which is useful for distinguishing it from the Canada Goose. The female is similar in appearance but has a slightly lighter build and a different vocalization.


The Cackling Goose breeds in the tundra regions of northern Canada and Alaska, preferring elevated areas near water for nesting.


This migratory species winters across much of the United States, with some populations in western Canada and northern Mexico. It has also been known to reach western Europe and parts of East Asia, including the Kamchatka Peninsula, eastern China, and Japan.


Cackling Geese are highly territorial during the breeding season, with males exhibiting aggressive behavior to defend their nesting area. They are often seen leading their offspring in a line, with one parent at the front and the other at the rear. These geese are known for their V-shaped migratory formations and their honking calls that herald the changing seasons.

Song & Calls

The vocalizations of the Cackling Goose include a variety of honks and barks. The calls are similar to those of the Canada Goose but are generally higher pitched.


Pairs of Cackling Geese may mate for life, with a lifespan that can reach around 20 years. The nest is a shallow depression lined with plant material and down, and the geese are diligent in leading and protecting their goslings.

Similar Species

The Cackling Goose can be confused with the Canada Goose and the Barnacle Goose. The Canada Goose is larger with a longer bill, while the Barnacle Goose has a black breast and grey body plumage.

Diet and Feeding

Cackling Geese are herbivorous, feeding on a variety of plant materials. They forage in water by submerging their heads and necks, and on land, they often feed on leftover grains in agricultural fields. They also consume insects, molluscs, and crustaceans.

Conservation status

The Cackling Goose is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. Conservation efforts have helped recover populations that were previously in decline due to over-hunting and habitat loss. However, some subspecies, such as minima and leucopareia, may still face challenges. The population from the Komandorski and Kuril Islands, known as B. h. asiatica, became extinct around 1929.

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