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Detailed Guide to "White-cheeked Goose" Subspecies (with photos)

by Harry Krueger

Work in Progress...

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Three races of "White-cheeked" Goose
Primary indicator comparison (l-r) B. h. hutchinsii, B. h. minima, B. c. parvipes
Photo © 2005 Doug Schonewald
January 2005, Moses Lake, Washington


Branta canadensis parvipes -- "Lesser" Canada Goose

 
See Description Comparisons -- "parvipes vs. taverneri" for further information on differentiating these taxa
 

A.  Bill and head (primary indicators)

  1. Length of bill along bottom of lower mandible is equal to approximately 70-75% of the width of the side of the head.
  2. Culmen slope is not as steep as in taverneri, sometimes even appearing slightly concave, graduating into a rounded and similarly sloped forehead before the eye. In some individuals there is an imperceptible difference between the slope of the culmen and forehead, with an almost continuous slope line to the crown.
  3. The bill has been well described as "larger and lower [than taverneri], like that of larger Canada Geese" (Deuel, 2004).
  4. Head shape is rounded with no sharp angles, particularly between the forehead and the crown and also between rear crown area and drop-off to the nape.
  5. Note: Although "runt" birds may be possible and smaller than norm birds have been shown to occur in other Canada Goose populations (B. c. interior), the bill size and shape in comparison to the head changes little in these abnormally small individuals (Leafloor, 1998), sometimes resulting in birds easily misidentified as either B. h. minima, or more so a smaller B. h. hutchinsii, when not considering the bill / head as a primary indicator.
Primary indicator detail of B. c. parvipes
Primary indicator detail of B. c. parvipes
Photo © 2003 Stuart MacKay
March 2003, Montlake Fill, Washington
   

B.  General appearance, size and body shape

  1. Shorter bodied and not as wide as larger races like moffitti or interior.
  2. Many birds are noticeably "thin-necked," which on alert birds can also seem proportionately long-necked, almost equal to larger races.
  3. Some birds seem "short-legged" in proportion to body size, especially birds seen in a relaxed, non-alert posture.
  4. Size is never as small as B. h. minima, but can overlap with not only taverneri, but also leucopareia and some B. c. occidentalis, and even B. c. moffitti. Remember, males are larger than females, with the largest male being very different in body mass than the smallest female. Although parvipes mean weight is one pound heavier than taverneri, this is something than would be extremely difficult to ascertain in the field.
Full body photo of B. c. parvipes with B. c. moffitti in backgound
Full body photo of B. c. parvipes with B. c. moffitti in background

Photo © 2005 Harry Krueger
January 2005, Ann Morrison Memorial Park, Boise, Idaho
   

C.  Plumage

  1. Generally lighter on breast and flanks than taverneri, although many birds can be very close to the tone of that race. Color is often (though not always) lighter on upper breast than taverneri (lighter brownish-gray through a light plain gray with some tan tones to almost whitish, although never pure white), closely appropriating the coloration of larger and more flat-headed B. c. moffitti. More birds than not show a blended increase in darker tone from breast to belly, although some birds are quite darkly unicolored from belly up to black stocking (or white neck-ring). Note: These darker birds might easily be identified as taverneri except for head / bill indicators as noted above.
  2. Some birds may have a partial to almost full neck-ring, varying in thickness, though when present, usually not as prominent and wide as in B. h. leucopareia. The division between black stocking and neck-ring is less distinct in immature birds. Note: clear visibility of feathering at or just below juncture of black neck stocking and upper breast may be hidden and less distinguishable on "relaxed" birds without outstreched necks.
  3. May or may not have a thin full or partial black chin (gular) stripe. There does not seem to be an identification significance to this attribute, other than the darker plumaged birds more often have this characteristic than those that that are lighter.
  4. Upperparts similar to brownish taverneri, with adult birds showing neat, orderly rows of pale edging.
Darker, white neck-ringed parvipes
Darker, white neck-ringed B. c. parvipes
Photo © 2005 Harry Krueger
January 2005, Ann Morrison Memorial Park, Boise, Idaho

Branta hutchinsii hutchinsii -- "Richardson's" Cackling Goose
 
As you view these pictures here are some identification indicators to note:

A.  Bill and head (primary indicators)

  1. The overall shape of the head is squared, with a fairly steep, although not quite vertical, incline from the base of the culmen to the forehead, where there is a rounded angle to a somewhat flat crown.
  2. The rear peak of the crown is pointed, angling steeply down to the nape.
  3. The bill is triangular and comparatively smaller than larger "white-cheeked" geese, which have more of a gentle, but longer slope aspect (less than 45 degrees) to the culmen, with the width of the bill half or less the width of the head.
B.   General appearance, size, and body shape
  1. In a relaxed posture the neck is noticeable shorter than larger Canada Goose subspecies such as moffitti and sometimes fairly thin, but not as thin as in some B. c. parvipes.
  2. In body form and posture, this race looks a bit short-legged, due to tarsus length in relationship to body mass when compared to Canada Goose subspecies, even in alert birds.
B.h. hutchinsii -- more relaxed posture with B.c. moffitti in foreground
B. h. hutchinsii -- more relaxed posture with B. c. moffitti in foreground
Photo © 2005 Harry Krueger
January 2005, Ann Morrison Memorial Park, Boise, Idaho
 
C.   Plumage
  1. The black stocking of the neck often ends in a diffuse border between the black and whitish feathers of the breast. This does not seem to be unique to immature birds.
  2. The breast is generally quite light, only to be possibly confused with some smaller, quite light, female B. c. parvipes ("Lesser" Canada Goose).
  3. Although some descriptions focus on a silvery cast to the upperparts, this can be misleading, very much dependent on bright sunlight on some individuals where this is applicable, while others look quite brownish.
   
When looking for this subspecies in a flock of "white-cheeked" geese, scan the birds for a smaller goose with a squarish looking head shape, smaller triangular bill and lighter breast. The vast majority of this race migrate to the east of Idaho and Montana. Intergrades with B. c. parvipes have been postulated, and if correct, could be the source of occasional "small geese" that do not fit the primary indicator model for this subspecies. More likely are the presence of "runts" of either parvipes or hutchinsii, where once again head-bill relationship (primary indicators) should be helpful in correctly assessing both species and subspecies.
B.h. hutchinsii -- Alert posture with outstretched neck
B. h. hutchinsii -- Alert posture with outstretched neck
Photo © 2005 Harry Krueger
January 2005, Ann Morrison Memorial Park, Boise, Idaho

Branta hutchinsii taverneri -- "Taverner's" Cackling Goose

 
See Description Comparisons -- "parvipes vs. taverneri" for further information on differentiating these taxa
 

A.  Bill and head (primary indicators)

  1. Length of bill along bottom of lower mandible is about one-half or slightly less the width of the side of the head.
  2. Bill shape is more reminiscent of the other smaller Cackling Goose races, with more steeply inclined angle to a shorter culmen. (Imagine a square bisected by two triangles - lower triangle represents the bill - whereas parvipes is a rectangle bisected by two triangles - lower triangle represents the bill.
  3. Culmen slope meets forehead forming a noticeably steeper angle with rounded transition to crown, different from gradual, more gently sloped transition from culmen to forehead of parvipes.
  4. Overall shape of the head is rounded, perhaps even more so than parvipes, which could be characterized as more oval shaped because of the bill incline to head.
  5. Runt birds may occur (see A.5 under parvipes).
B. h. taverneri. Note smaller, squared bill to head slope, grayer underparts
B. h. taverneri. Note smaller, squared bill to head slope, grayer underparts. An individual at the lighter end of this subspecies' spectrum.
Photo © 2005 Harry Krueger
January 2005, Ann Morrison Memorial Park, Boise, Idaho
 

B.  General appearance, size and body shape

  1. Shorter bodied and not as wide as larger races like moffitti or interior.
  2. Generally shorter necked and not as thin-necked as parvipes, although beware of "relaxing" parvipes, which may give the appearance of being quite short-necked.
  3. Seems "short-legged" in proportion to body size.
  4. Size is smaller than parvipes, but imperceptibly so in the field (see B.4 under parvipes).
   

C.  Plumage

  1. Most birds are generally darker than parvipes on the breast and flanks (some birds can be as dark as leucopareia), although some birds can also be quite light, even more so than many parvipes. Color is often (though not always) darker on upper breast than parvipes (darker grayish with some brown tones, whereas parvipes is more tan). "Taverner's" Cackling Goose is never as light colored on the upper breast as the lighter parvipes. The color of the upper breast can gradually darken toward the belly, or be unicolored with a darker belly shade, which normally has more brownish tones than breast. Belly and flanks are generally the same color.
  2. Neck-rings may be present on a large proportion of birds (see C.2 under parvipes).
  3. Almost all taverneri have a thin full or partial black chin (gular) stripe, separating the white of either cheek. Note: A bird without a chin stripe is probably a parvipes, whereas a bird with a chin stripe may be either race.
  4. Upperparts similar to brownish parvipes, with adult birds showing neat, orderly rows of pale edging.
taverneri
B. h. taverneri. Note the head and bill size and shape (primary indicator) as it differs from B. c. parvipes. This is a fairly typically colored bird with a very slight neck-ring.
Photo © 2004 Wayne Tree
November 2004, Polson, Montana

Branta hutchinsii minima -- "Cackling Goose"
 
A.  Bill and head (primary indicators)
  1. Smallest of the "white-cheeked" goose bills. Stubby, with base, culmen, and lower edge of mandible of approximate equal lengths. Culmen sometimes very slightly concave.
  2. Bill is centrally placed in relationship to the head (distance from the throat/top of black neck-stocking to top of crown).
  3. Head rounded from base of culmen through forehead, crown, and onto nape area. From the point where the throat meets the head and around the top of the head is almost a perfect circle - not oval, as in for instance, B. c. parvipes - with no noticeable edges.
B.h. minima
Primary indicators of B. h. minima.
Photo © 2004 Gabor Papp
October 2004, Ann Morrison Memorial Park, Boise, Idaho
   
B.  General appearance, size, and body shape
  1. Smallest of the "white-cheeked" geese complex, with many birds (females) just a little bulkier than a Mallard.
  2. Note: This is a race where awareness by the observer of the possibility of runts in other subspecies is important to consider. Just because a lone bird is as small as minima does not necessarily make it minima. Be sure to check the primary indicators.
  3. Rather short-necked and relatively short-legged, "plump" appearance compounded by diminutive overall body mass.
Cackling Goose
B. h. minima. Note very small size and purplish sheen to breast compared to likely B. c. moffitti or moffitti x parvipes intergrade.
Photo © 2004 Harry Krueger
October 2004, Ann Morrison Memorial Park, Boise, Idaho
C.  Plumage
  1. Distinguished by very dark breast and belly, with upper breast characteristically dark brown with deep rusty tones, and in many birds an almost purplish sheen, blending into the black neck. (See also #6 below re: white neck-rings.)
  2. Often color tone of area from the upper breast through the belly may be a slight shade lighter, lacking the dark sheen of the upper breast.
  3. Flanks are sometime a bit lighter, with latitudinal and fairly even darker "stripes," lightest just before the white rump area just above the legs.
  4. May have either full chin (gular)-stripe dividing white cheek strap, a partial chin-stripe, or no stripe at all.
  5. White cheek patches are usually full and relatively wide, taking up a significant portion of the side of the head (at least half).
  6. A minority proportion of minima may have a noticeable white bib or line separating the black neck and dark breast area.
  7. Upperparts uniformly brown, in tone being somewhere between lighter B. c. moffitti and the darker B. c. occidentalis.

Subpecies Accounts


B.c. canadensis
B.c. interior
B.c. maxima
B.c. moffitti
B.c. parvipes
B.c. occidentalis
B.c. fulva

B.h. hutchinsii
B.h. taverneri
B.h. minima
B.h. leucopareia

Table of Contents