Cackling Goose  ( Bernache de Hutchins )

Back to Checklist

Branta hutchinsii

 (No high quality local photo available yet for this species.) 


General Notes

It has been known for well over a century that there is wide variation in the "white cheeked goose complex", and many subspecies have been well documented. In 2004, the Canada Goose was formally split into two full species, a large-bodied group of seven subspecies that retained the name Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), and a small-bodied group of four subspecies that gained the name Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii). Studies of mitochondrial DNA indicate that these two groups separated about 1,000,000 years ago.

Of the four subspecies of Cackling Goose, only one is a regular migrant through Ontario, Branta hutchinsii hutchinsii, a subspecies formerly referred to as Richardson's Canada Goose.  All three of the other subspecies are extremely western in range and migrate along the Pacific coast.  Note that the subspecies often referred to as the Lesser Canada Goose is considered the smallest of the large forms, and stays with the species now called Canada Goose.  Although the smallest of the Lesser Canada Geese may overlap in size with the largest of the Cackling Geese, the former is not a frequent visitor to Ontario, using instead a migration pathway over the prairies.

In eastern North America the occurrence of Cackling Goose is much more limited than the larger forms of Canada Geese. Several of the large bodied forms breed throughout northern Ontario and into southern Ontario. The Cackling Goose, on the other hand, is a purely arctic breeder, and will only be found in Ontario during migration. Although much less numerous than the large forms of Canada Goose, the Cackling Goose is nevertheless considered a regular and locally abundant migrant in parts of northern Ontario, especially in the primary migration pathway between James Bay and western Lake Superior. It is interesting to note that the migration route indicated by recoveries of banded birds is similar to that of Lesser Snow Geese in Ontario, and the two species are often seen migrating in mixed skeins. They are also very similar in size to Snow Geese.

An excellent general synopsis of the status of the Cackling Goose in Ontario by Ken Abraham can be found on the OFO website at For a more detailed discussion of identification problems, David Sibley has an excellent summary on his website:

Abundance: Occasional Earliest observed:  

Typical spring arrival:

Typical fall arrival:

Breeding Status: Migrant Latest observed:  

Typical spring departure:

Typical fall departure:

Documented Observations