British Waterfowl Association

Cackling Goose

Cackling geese in a field with daisies
Cackling Geese at Clères - Morag Jones

Branta hutchinsii

When it comes to the North American geese, distinguishing Cackling from Canada is perhaps the most challenging. The two birds are virtually identical—so much so that until 2004, they were considered one species: Branta canadensis. Now, due mainly to genetic differences, the Cackling Goose is formally on its own, with four regional subspecies. The overall impression of this bird is dark and small.

Branta hutchinsii includes the subspecies hutchinsii, asiatica, leucopareia, taverneri, and minima. This last subspecies, B. h. minima is little bigger than a Mallard. 

Cackling Geese lack the deep, throaty honks of Canadas, instead producing high-pitched squeaks, yips, and of course, cackles. 

Cackling Geese summer in northern Alaska and Canada, breeding along the Arctic coasts from Baffin Island to the Aleutian chain. Many spend their winters in the Pacific states and the southern Great Plains. 

Cackling Geese are frequently kept, but great care needs to be taken with bloodlines. Clutch sizes are highly variable 2-9 eggs, incubation 24-26 days. The great majority held are B. h. minima, which are also reported as wild sightings in Britain. It is suspected that a proportion of these are escapees.