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Cackling Goose

Named after their distinctive sounds, these water birds are widespread across North America.

While most North Americans will instantly recognize the widespread and common Canada Goose that is so often seen on city lakes or golf courses, far fewer know that there is a very similar species known as the Cackling Goose that was recently split from the Canada Goose. The Cackling Goose is much smaller than most races of Canada Geese, although there is some overlap in size.

The Cackling Goose is made up of four subspecies. Migration generally takes place at low altitudes, and survival rates from one year to the next are relatively high. The population has generally been increasing.

Migration generally takes place at low altitudes, and survival rates from one year to the next are relatively high. The population has generally been increasing.

Cackling Goose has a smaller bill and rounder head than the Canadian.

The are four subspecies of Cackling Goose. Two show a white ring around the neck of the birds, at the base of the neck near the body.

cackling goose

Generally like a small Canada Goose.  Dark head and neck with white chin strap.  Small bill.  Brown body, darker tail.  Underparts darker or lighter, depending on the race.Calls reminiscent of Canada Goose, but higher pitched.  Underside of tail white.  Photograph © Glenn Bartley.

cackling goose

This bird, perhaps the “Richardson’s” race has a white band on the neck and pale chest.  Photograph © Tom Grey.

cackling goose

This Cackling Goose lacks the white neck band and is darker underneath than the bird in the above image.  The tail shows a white “U” shape from above.  Photograph © Tom Grey.

Cacking Goose and Canada Goose

Cackling Goose on the left, Canada Goose on the right.  The Cackling Goose has a smaller bill.  The bill and head of the Canada Goose present a more sloped appearance.

Description of the Cackling Goose


The Cackling Goose is mostly brownish with a black head and neck, a white cheek patch on each side of the face, and a black tail.   Lenght:  23″ – 32″

cackling goose


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles are similar to adults.


Lakes, ponds, and grassy fields.


Plant material and some insects, mollusks, and fish.

cackling goose

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.


Forages by grazing.


Breeds in northern portions of Canada and Alaska and winters primarily in parts of the western and south-central U.S.

Fun Facts

Cackling Geese were formerly considered to be subspecies of Canada Geese.


The call is a honking that is higher pitched than that of Canada Geese.


Similar Species

Canada Goose

Canada Goose 

Canada Goose. Photograph © Alan Wilson.

Canada Geese are larger, with longer necks and bills.



The nest is a depression lined with grasses and sticks.

Number: 4-7.
Color: White.

Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 25-28 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) in 1-2 days after hatching but remain with the adults for some time.



About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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