The cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii) is basically just a miniature look-alike of the familiar Canada goose. In fact, the two birds were considered varieties of the same species until 2004. The cackling goose is about the size of a large mallard, but otherwise it is nearly identical to its larger cousin.
Best Field Marks
- Diminutive size.
- Short, stubby bill.
The cackling goose has a high-pitched call to match its small size. Instead of a resonant honk, it makes a cackle—hence its name.
Distribution & Occurrence
The Cackling Goose can be found anywhere in Kansas, east or west, farmland or urban areas.
Like the smaller varieties of Canada goose, the cackling goose still retains its migratory instincts. It typically arrives in October, spends the winter wherever it can find open water, and leaves in March.
The cackling goose behaves similarly to the larger Canada goose, with which it frequently mingles. Generally the only distinguishing characteristic is that the cackling goose seems to feel more at home in shallow water.
Most birdwatchers will not be interested in attracting cackling geese to their backyards, and most cackling geese are not interested in being attracted, either.
Hunters find attracting the wary cackling goose to be a challenge. Decoys are used in combination with high-pitched goose calls. These calls must be given at a rapid rate to imitate an entire flock of geese, or the real cackling geese are likely to be suspicious.
So how do you tell a cackling goose and a Canada goose apart? Obviously, if you see one of each sitting side by side, size will make identification easy. When the goose in question is by itself, however, you will have to rely on more subtle proportional differences. The cackling goose has a shorter neck, a stubbier bill, and a more rounded head. The Canada goose has a more triangular head by comparison. Studying photographs of the two geese can help you recognize this difference.
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.