#328 Cackling Goose

Yesterday my wife came home from her exercise in the park, and told me she’d seen a really small goose. She thought it might be a juvenile. It was the wrong time of year for a juvenile Canada Goose, the only goose that breeds in the park. I briefly considered the possibility of a Cackling Goose; but a small flock of Brant has been hanging out recently, so I told her she probably saw a Brant.

Six hours later about half an hour after sunset, I get an e-mail from Rob Jett. Apparently Peter Dorosh has found a Cackling Goose in the lake, and about eight people have seen it. I immediately starting kicking myself for not running right out to look for my wife’s “baby goose” earlier.

Anyway, this morning I hopped out of bed at sunrise, and walked over to the lake as directly as possible. I start at the Peninsula meadow and slowly begin walking widdershins around the lake. I scan several small flocks of Canadas as well as the usual American Coots, Ruddy Ducks, Northern Shovelers, Mallards, and Ring-billed Gulls. I find the Muscovy Duck (uncountable) almost immediately. There’s a group of ducks, geese, and pigeons along the west shore; and for a minute I think I have it; but then it moves a little; the parallax shifts; and it’s obviously just another Canada, only marginally smaller than average.

I scan more flocks from the shelter. Nothing. At West island I pick up five American Black Ducks, some Mallards acting unusually shoveler-like (swimming around in circles), and another dozen or so Canada Geese. Still no Cackling Goose. I walk around to the cove and take a better look at the Canadas. They continue to be just Canadas.

I turn east around the corner of the lake. Someone is feeding the geese and gulls, but only the usual species. And then as I walk past Three Sisters Island I see two more birders scanning a close in flock of geese. I pull out my binoculars and there it is! #328, Cackling Goose:

Cackling Goose in Prospect Lake, 2006-01-29

This time I’m sure. It’s only a little more than half the size of the Canadas all around it. It cooperates by swimming repeatedly in front of different Canada Geese so I can make repeated size comparisons. It’s even smaller than the Snow Goose that’s standing on the shore a few meters away. (Normally I’m quite interested in the Snow Goose, but today it takes second place.)

This may be the first Cackling Goose ever seen in Prospect Park. I’m not sure. Until a couple of years ago it was considered a subspecies of Canada Goose; but the American Ornithologist’s Union split the species in 2004. The only reliable way I know to distinguish them is by direct size comparison as in the photo above. Be careful. Over the last two years I have seen dozens of birds I thought might be cackling geese at first, and until today everyone of them turned into a Canada Goose when I got a better look or a better comparison. Size is very hard to judge, and a Canada with its neck held down viewed from the wrong angle can look a lot like a Cackling. Based on the bird I saw today though, when you see a real one, it’s quite distinct. There shouldn’t be any doubt. If there is any doubt, then you’re looking at a Canada.

5 Responses to “#328 Cackling Goose”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    BTW, why do you Guys capitalize the Common Names of Birds?

  2. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    Damned if I know why, but it’s the standard way of writing about bird species. I guess it’s considered to be a proper name. See http://www.audubon.org/local/cn/98spring/cbn.html

  3. Hugh McGuinness Says:

    One reason to capitalize bird names is for clarity in writing. For example when writing about birds a yellow warbler is any warbler that has yellow color, but a Yellow Warbler refers to a particular species Dendroica petechia.

  4. set Says:

    How do you know the pictured bird is a Cackling Goose? Could it be a Richardson’s? The breast is strikingly light which runs counter to the descriptions I have of Cacklings having notably darker breasts.

    Thanks.

  5. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    A Richardson’s is a subspecies of Cackling Goose. Most people around here think it was a Richardson’s.

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