Photo: Blake Matheson/Flickr Creative Commons

Cackling Goose

Branta hutchinsii

The white-cheeked geese of North America were long considered to make up just one highly variable species, Canada Goose. It was not until 2004 that four of the smallest forms were formally recognized as comprising a distinct species. As their name suggests, Cackling Geese have much higher-pitched voices than the familiar honking of Canada Geese.
Conservation status The distinctive subspecies on the Aleutian Islands of Alaska was almost exterminated by foxes introduced to those islands for the fur trade. After removal of foxes from some islands, the geese made a good comeback. Subsistence hunting may be a problem for some populations in western Alaska and elsewhere.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Tundra in summer; lakes, marshes, and fields in winter. Nests on tundra in western Alaska and north-central Canada, as well as barren uplands on Aleutian Islands. Winters on southern lakes and marshes, often foraging in open prairies or farm fields.
The white-cheeked geese of North America were long considered to make up just one highly variable species, Canada Goose. It was not until 2004 that four of the smallest forms were formally recognized as comprising a distinct species. As their name suggests, Cackling Geese have much higher-pitched voices than the familiar honking of Canada Geese.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

forages mostly by grazing while walking on land; also feeds in water, submerging head and neck, sometimes up-ending. Feeds in flocks at most seasons.


Eggs

4-6. White, soon becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by female, 25-27 days, with male standing guard nearby. Young: Parents lead young from nest 1-2 days after hatching. Young are tended by both parents, but find their own food from the start. Age at first flight about 6-7 weeks.


Young

Parents lead young from nest 1-2 days after hatching. Young are tended by both parents, but find their own food from the start. Age at first flight about 6-7 weeks.

Diet

almost entirely plant material. Feeds on a wide variety of plants. Eats stems and shoots of grasses, sedges, aquatic plants; consumes many cultivated grains, mainly waste grains left in farm fields.


Nesting

May mate for life. Nest site (chosen by female) is usually near water, on open tundra or sometimes on cliff ledge. Nest (built by female) is a shallow scrape filled with plant material gathered from immediately around the nest, and lined with down feathers.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

All populations are strongly migratory. Those nesting in Alaska winter mostly in California, while those from the central Canadian Arctic winter mostly on the southern Great Plains and near the western Gulf Coast.

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Migration

All populations are strongly migratory. Those nesting in Alaska winter mostly in California, while those from the central Canadian Arctic winter mostly on the southern Great Plains and near the western Gulf Coast.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Honking, high-pitched cackling. A higher “alto” honk to the Canada Goose “tenor.” Often a high pitched “cackling”, from which its common name is derived.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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