occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: Breeds locally on the Aleutian Islands, Semidi Islands (off Alaska Peninsula), formerly Bering Island and Kuriles; western and northern Alaska east to northern Yukon and Mackenzie Delta, south to Bristol Bay, the Alaska Peninsula, and central Yukon; and near the Arctic coast of Northwest Territories and Nunavut from Queen Maud Gulf east to Melville Peninsula, Southampton Island, and western Baffin Bay.
Winters from British Columbia south to California, east to northern Mexico and western Louisiana. Formerly wintered in Japan. Casual or accidental in Hawaii and east to the Florida panhandle, and the Atlantic coast of the United States from Mainie to South Carolina.
Habitat and Ecology
Habitat Type: Freshwater
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Branta hutchinsii
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Branta hutchinsii
Public Records: 108
Specimens with Barcodes: 557
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5B,N5N : N5B: Secure - Breeding, N5N: Secure - Nonbreeding
Rounded National Status Rank: NU - Unrankable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
The black head and neck with white "chinstrap" distinguish this goose from all except the larger Canada goose (Branta canadensis) and the similarly sized barnacle goose (B. leucopsis). There are up to 5 subspecies of cackling goose, of varying sizes and plumage details. The female looks virtually identical but is slightly lighter and has a different voice. Some are hard to distinguish from the Canada goose, with which the cackling goose was long assumed to form one species, the cackling goose and the smaller Canada goose subspecies being called the lesser Canada goose. The smallest 1.4 kg (3.1 lb) Cackling geese (B. h. minima) are much smaller than any Canada goose, but the subspecies B. h. hutchinsii, at up to 3 kg (6.6 lb), grows to the same size as some Canada geese. The distinctness of the extinct population of the Komandorski and Kuril Islands B. h. asiatica is controversial. The barnacle goose differs in having a black breast and grey, rather than brownish, body plumage.
This species is native to North America. It breeds in northern Canada and Alaska in a variety of tundra habitats. However, the nest is usually located in an elevated area near water. The eggs are laid in a shallow depression lined with plant material and down. Males can be very aggressive in defending territory. A pair may mate for life (up to around 20 years). Adult geese are often seen leading their goslings in a line with one parent at the front, and the other at the back of the "parade".
Like most geese, it is naturally migratory, the wintering range being most of the U.S., and locally in western Canada and northern Mexico. The calls overhead from large groups of cackling geese flying in V-shaped formation signal the transitions into spring and fall. In some areas, migration routes have changed due to changes in habitat and food sources.
Cackling geese have occasionally reached western Europe naturally, as has been proved by ringing recoveries. The birds are of at least the subspecies hutchinsii, and possibly others. Cackling geese are also found naturally on occasions in the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Siberia, eastern China, and throughout Japan.
These birds feed mainly on plant material. When feeding in water, they submerge their heads and necks to reach aquatic plants, sometimes tipping forward like a dabbling duck. Flocks of these birds often feed on leftover cultivated grains in fields, especially during migration or in winter. They also eat some insects, molluscs and crustaceans.
By the early 20th century, over-hunting and loss of habitat in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had resulted in a serious decline in the numbers of this bird in its native range. With improved game laws and habitat recreation and preservation programs, their populations have recovered in most of their range, although some local populations may still be declining, especially of the subspecies minima and leucopareia. Though the taxonomic distinctness of the Komandorski and Kuril Islands populations, which used to winter in Japan, is controversial, it is without doubt that they disappeared around 1929.
The cackling goose was originally considered to be the same species or a subspecies of the Canada goose, but in July 2004 the American Ornithologists' Union's (AOU) Committee on Classification and Nomenclature split the two into two species, making cackling goose into a full species with the scientific name Branta hutchinsii. The British Ornithologists Union followed suit in June 2005.
The AOU has divided the many associated subspecies between both animals. To the present species were assigned:
- Richardson's cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii hutchinsii)
- Aleutian cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii leucopareia)
- Small cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii minima)
- Taverner's cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii taverneri)
- †Bering cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii asiatica)—doubtfully distinct from B. h. leucopareia; extinct (c.1929)
The distinctions between the two geese have led to a great deal of confusion and debate among ornithologists. This has been aggravated by the overlap between the small types of Canada goose and larger types of cackling goose. Most interestingly, the old "lesser Canada goose" was believed to be a partly hybrid population, with the birds named taverneri considered a mixture of minima, occidentalis and parvipes. In addition, it has been determined that the barnacle goose is a derivative of the cackling goose lineage, whereas the Hawaiian goose is an insular representative of the Canada goose.
A recent proposed revision by Harold Hanson suggests splitting Canada and cackling goose into six species and 200 subspecies. The radical nature of this proposal has provoked surprise in some quarters; Richard Banks of the AOU urges caution before any of Hanson's proposals are accepted.
- Stackhouse, Mark. The New Goose.
- Angus, Wilson. Identification and range of subspecies within the Canada and Cackling Goose Complex (Branta canadensis & B. hutchinsii).
- Moser, Timothy J., Craven, Scott R. and Miller, Brian K. Canada Geese in the Mississippi Flyway: A Guide for Goose Hunters and Goose Watchers.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Branta hutchinsii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Banks, Richard (2007) Review of Harold Hanson's "The White-Cheeked Geese: Branta Canadensis, B. Maxima, B. ‘‘Lawrensis’’, B. Hutchinsii, B. Leucopareia, And B. Minima. Taxonomy, Ecophysiographic Relationships, Biogeography, And Evolutionary Considerations. Volume 1. Eastern Taxa" The Wilson Journal of Ornithology
The newly recognized Cackling Goose is a smaller version of the Canada Goose. Formerly considered the smallest subspecies of one variable species, recent work on genetic differences found the four smallest forms to be very different. These four races are now recognized as a full species: the Cackling Goose. It breeds farther northward and westward than does the Canada Goose.
The Cackling Goose was long considered just a small race of the Canada Goose. The smallest four of the eleven recognized races were recently determined to be distinct enough to be their own species. Cackling Goose includes the races known as Taverner's, Richardson's, Aleutian, and Cackling geese. Confusingly, the "Lesser Canada Goose" is still a race of the Canada Goose.
Although most Cackling Geese nest along ponds and streams in the tundra, the Aleutian form nests on south-facing turf slopes above rocky, cliff-bound shorelines. The Richardson's form can nest in colonies of several hundred pairs on cliffs and steep rock slopes.
The smallest form of the Cackling Goose is only a quarter the size of the "Giant Canada Goose" subspecies.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Formerly treated as part of B. canadensis but separated on the basis of several genetic studies. The distribution of this small-bodied form includes that of the subspecies B. c. hutchinsii, asiatica, leucopareia, taverneri, and minima as recognized by Delacour (1956).
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