Find the best places to hunt Cackling Geese in Canada. Discover their Physical Description, Range, Habitat, Food Source, Breeding Habits, and Status. 

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinii LC

Range - Distribution and Habitat of the Cackling Goose:

Range of Cackling Goose
 Cackling Goose Range Map of Canada

Original Source of Map of North America from

Modified by:


The Cackling Goose is a migratory native breeding resident of Canada. It breeds in tundra habitats along the coastal territories of the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Nunavik in Northern Quebec.

Its habitat will vary by the subspecies but in general you should look around coastal ponds and lakes of the Arctic Ocean. During the winter and on migration pathways. Look in them feeding on waste grains of agricultural fields.

Branta hutchinsii hutchinsii

Richardson’s Goose (Branta hutchinsii hutchinsii), Richardson’s Cackling Goose or Hutchins’s Goose have two populations. The eastern population breeds from Baffin Island on westward to Prince of Wales Island. The western population called “Short-grass Prairie” breeds from Victoria Island to the border of Alaska.

Their primary wintering range consists of two areas. The eastern population called “Tallgrass Prairie” winters in the Gulf of Mexico from northern Veracruz to southeastern Louisiana. The western population winters from the central-western part of Mexico and onward inland through western Texas, eastern New Mexico and up to eastern Colorado.

Branta hutchinsii taverneri

Branta hutchinsii taverneri is more commonly known as the Taverner’s Goose. This subgroup also breeds with the Ridgway Goose on the tundra habitats of the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta. It also breeds in areas of Alaska’s Seward Peninsula and Kotzebue Sound. There is speculation that it also breeds along Alaska’s northern arctic coast all the way to the Yukon’s Mackenzie River Delta. Beyond that, not much else is known about its breeding grounds.

The wintering locals of the Tavener’s Goose has a lot speculation. This is because of the recent change in classification and the difficulty in identifying the species from other Cackling Geese. However, it is thought that most of this species winters

in the Willamette Valley, Lower Columbia River Valley, and Columbia Basin, with smaller numbers along the Washington coast north through Grays Harbor, in the Puget Trough north to Seattle, and in California’s Central Valley (D. Kraege, pers. comm.).

Branta hutchinsii minima

This subspecies of Cackling Goose was called Cackling Goose sensu stricto prior to 2004. It is the smallest member of the species and is now often referred to as Ridgway’s Goose.

The breeding grounds for Ridgway’s Goose are on the tidal margins and coastal floodplains of where the Yukon to Kuskokwim rivers flow into the Bering Sea on the west coast of Alaska.

Its wintering grounds are predominately in the states of Oregon and Washington and the balance in central California.

Brant hutchinsii Leucopareia

Also known as the Aleutian Goose or Aleutian Cackling Goose. The breeding grounds for Branta hutchinsii leucopareia are located on the chains of islands of the Aleutians and the Anowik Islands that are located to the east of the Aleutians.

This Aleutian population winters in California and the Anowik members overwinter in Oregon.

Description of Cackling Goose:

Cackling Goose
 goose cackling
Cackling Goose - Karren Perry - Flickr

Once thought to be a smaller subspecies of the Canada goose and was called the Lesser Canada Goose. It was recognized as a separate species in 2004 and some refer to it as the “white-cheeked geese”. Within the Cackling species four subspecies were recognized. Part of the differentiation comes from the fact that Canada Geese don’t breed on tundra habitats whereas the Cackling Goose does. To further reinforce this separation is that each has its own breeding range, separate migratory paths, and distinct wintering ranges.

When compared side by side the physical size difference between Canada Gees and Cackling Geese become apparent as the Cackling is much smaller. The Cackling also has a rounder head, stubbier bill, and shorter neck.

Branta hutchinsii hutchinsii

  • The forehead of the Richardson’s Goose is short and steep. It rises up almost straight up from it bill. The top of its head is flat and angles up towards the rear.
  • The profile of its bill is long and narrow with a downward curvature at the tip. The upper ridge of its bill is never curved.
  • Its overall size and shape can vary a lot. In general, it is almost as small as Ridgway’s Goose. The western population is smaller than the eastern population.
  • Its underparts are uniform in colour similar to the other subspecies and its breast is a white colour that rarely has a sheen to it.
  • About 25% of this subspecies have a dark stripe from their throat to their chin that separates the two white cheek patches from each other. The cheek patch narrows at eye level.
  •  A neck collar is a white line that is located at the base of the goose’s neck and separates the neck colour from its body. This is not a distinguishing feature for only 10 to 20% of this subspecies have one.
  • The main flight feathers of its wing are usually brown or a gray-brown colour at the base of each feather.

Branta hutchinsii taverneri

  • The shape of Taverner’s Goose is similar to that of Richardson’s Goose but it does appear to be a little larger.
  • The shape of its bill is strong, thick, and somewhat triangular in shape. There is often a bulge near the base of its lower jaw.
  • The size and shape of the Taverner’s Goose is much like the Aleutian Goose but definitely larger than the Ridgeway Goose. It can appear to have a large chest and when alert has a distinguishing long neck.
  • The Taverner’s Goose usually has a medium gray coloured breast along with darker belly and flanks.
  • Its cheek patch is similar in appearance to that of Ridgeway’s Goose and its presence varies anywhere from 40 to 95%..
  • At a 99% probability, this species is the least likely to have a neck collar.

Branta hutchinsii minima

  • The Ridgeway Goose has a moderately sloped forehead along with the top of its head being rounded. The angle that its forehead meets its forehead is slightly steeper.
  • The shape of its bill is usually small and triangular but is also somewhat variable. The shape is seldom  slender and long and it is not often that it shows signs of a bulge near the base of its lower jaw.
  • At the approximate size of a Mallard, this is the smallest subspecies of the Cackling goose. It has a short thick neck, a small chest, and long slender wings.
  • Its underparts are the darkest of all Cackling Geese. This subspecies typically has a dark and glossy-breast, with a purple to bronze sheen.
  • The gular stipe is common with this species and only 1% of them have neck collars.
  • The base of the wing covert is a blue-gray colour with a dark brown subterminal band and a strikingly contrasting white terminal band.

Brant hutchinsii Leucopareia

  • When considering the shape of the Aleutian Goose the distance from the base of its bill to the top of its head is longer than that of other Cackling geese. It is steep and the top of its head is flat and rounder as it curves onto its neck.
  • The shape of the bill is not easily distinguishable as it is somewhere between the shape of all the other subspecies combined.
  • This is a mid-sized bird that is larger than Ridgeway’s Goose yet smaller than Taverner’s Goose. It has a long thick neck and a big chest.
  • This subspecies has a gray- to bronze-brown-chest.
  • With this subgroup, its gular stripe and white neck collar is almost always present.
  • The wing covert pattern is typically a brown colour rather than gray. Also, the subterminal band tends to be more spread out when comparing it to Ridgeway’s Goose. But it is better defined than Richardson’s Goose. The terminal band often quite wide and is normally a cream color.

With varying subspecies, the Cackling goose has a large variance that can range in length 22 to 30 inches (55.9 to 7.2 cm.) in length and 3.4 to 5.7 lbs. (1.54 to 2.59 kg.) for males and 2.1 to 5.3 lbs (9.5 to 2.4 kg.) for females.

The longest living wild Cackling Goose recorded was 28.7 years old.

Diet and Foraging Strategy of the Cackling Goose:

The Cackling goose is an herbivore that lives on a diet of aquatic vegetation, seeds, waste grain, grasses, forbs, berries, insects, mollusks, and crustaceans.

On the water it will normally surface feed by tipping over its body in order to forage below the surface. In the fall you may find them on land where it will feed in open fields and agricultural fields on grains.

Young geese require high levels of protein and young shoots of grass are the preferred feed.

Breeding and Reproduction of the Cackling Goose:

Males are very aggressive during the breeding season and pairs mate for life. Pairs will choose a new mate if one of them dies.

The nesting sites vary according to subspecies. Site can be amongst ponds and streams of tundra habitat. Or as in the case of the Aleutian and Richardson’s goose on rocky slopes or cliffs. But a common point is that they all build cup-shaped nests that are build using grass, moss, other vegetation, and line them with down and body feathers.

A study of an Aleutian Goose showed that the nesting date varies from May 4th to may 29th with the mean date being May 17th. The number of eggs laid in the nest averaged 3.4 (2009). I did note that this was different than a previous study (1977) stated 5.5 eggs as the average. This discrepancy most likely lies with the physical condition of the female being poorer for the lower average.

It takes the female a little more than a week to lay her clutch of eggs and the incubation period is estimated to be 25 to 28 days.

It takes about 2 months for the chicks to fledge.

Status of Cackling Goose:

The Cackling Goose was assessed by BirdLife International in 2012 to be a species of Least Concern. Justification for this assessment on the Red List was because it has a very large range and the population is also extremely large.


Cackling Goose

 © NatureServe - Source: NatureServe

 © International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources - Source: IUCN

Aleutian Cackling Geese breeding on Buldir Island –

Observations of Aleutian Cackling Geese Branta hutchinsii leucopareia breeding on Buldir Island, Alaska: forty-seven years after discovery of a remnant population JOSH COCKE, STEVEN K. ALTON & JEFFREY M. BLACK* Waterfowl Ecology Research Group, Department of Wildlife, Humboldt State University, Arcata, California 95521, USA.


Canada and Cackling Geese: Management and Population Control in Southern Canada by Canadian Wildlife Service Environment Canada, source -

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