Early morning high flyers: The white cheeks are typical of Canada Geese. The white necklace is not. Long considered a smaller, more northerly form of Canada Goose, the descriptor “Aleutian form” was often tacked on. But in 2004, the American Ornithological Union assigned these necklaced birds species status and named them for their higher-pitched honking in flight: Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii. (Chignik Lake, April 18, 2018)
As a given species disperses from its core range, the tendency for it is to become smaller, perhaps a response to less favorable feeding conditions or other environmental factors. Over time, a given population’s size difference along with other newly formed adaptations may result in a new species.
As geese go, Aleutian Cacklings are small – a little larger than Brant, but a lot smaller than an average Canada Goose. As far as I can determine, Cacklings seldom hang around in the Chignik System. Your best shot at seeing them there is to hope for a reasonably clear spring day and find a comfortable place to watch from. And then listen. During migration, separate flocks of Cacklings and Brandt noisily pass through at virtually any hour day or night on their way to nesting grounds further north. The Cacklings are distinguished by their more goose-like, high-pitched honking.
Cackling Goose: Photo credit – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wikipedia –
For comparison, here’s a Canada Goose. One of these typically weighs from as little as six-and-a-half to nearly 20 pounds. This is considerably larger than its Cackling cousin which weighs roughly three to five pounds. Wild Mallards weight about two to three pounds. (Potter’s Marsh near Anchorage, Alaska, June 25, 2012.)
At times wave after wave of geese cruise north above Chignik Lake. This is yet another flock of Aleutian form Cackling Geese. Their high-pitched honking is part of a springtime symphony which includes winnowing snipe, bugling cranes, rattling kingfishers, piping eagles, mewing gulls and fluting thrushes. (April 18, 2018)
Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii
Branta: Latinized Old Norse Brandgás = burnt-black goose
hutchinsii: after English surgeon and naturalist Thomas Hutchins
Status at Chignik Lake, 2016-19: Spring & Fall migrant seen flying high in flocks
David Narver, Birds of the Chignik River Drainage, summers 1960-63: (Species not yet separated from Canada Goose.) Reported Canada Goose rare on Black River
Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Bird List, 2010:
Uncommon in Spring & Summer; Common in Fall; Absent in Winter
Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve Bird List: Presence Probable but not Documented
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*For a clickable list of bird species and additional information about this project, click here: Birds of Chignik Lake
© Photographs, images and text by Jack Donachy unless otherwise noted.