bird geekery

March 19, 2018

One of the things I’ve learned since really starting birding a few years ago is that ornithologists are constantly making up new species. And getting rid of other species. I mean, not actually. It’s just that the science is getting better all the time, DNA analysis is a thing now, and sometimes a regional subspecies turns out to be a whole new bird, and other times a couple of different species have hybridized with each other so much they’re actually just the same bird. So imagine my shock when I learned that they split off the Canada goose into a new subspecies. Canada goose, one of the common birds in the continental U.S. Some might even call it a pest. And now there’s another whole species, the Cackling goose, that basically looks exactly like the Canada goose except it’s short and stubby. Like this:

To make matters worse, it mostly hangs out with Canada geese. This means to ID and check off a Cackling goose, I needed to start paying attention to gigantic noisy boring flocks of Canada geese. Like, mindfully, and stuff.

Why are you doing this to me, ornithologists?  Why?!?  I can tell other birders are cranky about this too because over on eBird, instead of reporting Canada and Cackling geese separately, they just enter them under “Canada/Cackling Goose.”  Which is cheating. But I can understand. I want to try to be at least a little accurate.

Well, I decided this was the year I was going to do it. I was going to spot my Cackling goose. Because seriously, they’re two different birds once you see the differences. Cackling geese really do have short necks and short little bills compared to their former species-mates. And they’re small, and some of them have those prominent neck rings.  When you look at comparison photos online, they’re definitely different.

But comparing photos online versus spotting actual birds moving around in the wild? Yeah.  So basically I’ve spent the last two months taking pictures of one of the most common boring birds I see on my outings and bringing them home and comparing them to online ID sites to determine that no, in fact, those are still Canada geese.

I knew if I could just actually positively ID a Cackling goose in the wild, I’d figure it out.

Well, I did it on Saturday. I totally, 100% without a doubt got my Cackling geese. Like, once I spotted them they were obvious. And it isn’t just that they really are stubby little versions of the other. They acted different. Like, they all clumped together quietly drifting along on the water and looking vaguely embarrassed at how loud and obnoxious all the Canada geese were being.

Like they might actually be happy to be split out into their own species.

You go, little Cackling geese. I got yer backs.



4 Responses to “bird geekery”

  1. sarah peterson Says:

    Hey carrie, ya know, I have noticed these fun-sized geese hanging around with the larger flocks. There are quite a few refuges and water fowl areas where I live. Birds are fun, we have 4 backyard chickens, and they have funny personalities-fun to watch. Blanche (named after the slutty one on the golden girls) is a grouch though. I gotta say off topic, I saw wrinkle in time, and was too distracted by oprah’s eyebrows to pay attention to the rest of it… oh, and I saw bon jovi in concert friday- he still rocks! He is a cutie. Living on a prayer sounds amazing with 7000 people singing along. Anywho, now I’m rambling. You’re awesome:) laters

  2. Tim Says:

    The Salem, OR area has large numbers of Canada Geese residing here year round. I’d noticed that mixed in full size geese there were shorter geese but had always assumed they were last year’s hatchlings and hadn’t reached full size yet. Now I know.

  3. It’s funny you mention the fact that new genera/species are constantly being assigned and/or reassigned, because I’ve had to get myself up to date with some of the more recent classifications. For one thing, virtually the entire family of frogs & toads has been reassessed, so not all of the classic scientific names are necessarily still valid. What’s more, as a paleontology enthusiast, the situation becomes even more bafflingly complicated, as there’s usually no DNA to go on, so scientists squabble over whether small anatomical differences between specimens are enough to set them apart as different species, if not different genera. Just recently, the type specimen of the dinosaur was once called Brontosaurus, which famously had been found to be a species of Apatosaurus, has been found by some (though not all) to be sufficiently different from all other Apatosaurus species to be reclassified as Brontosaurus once more. Truly, the life of the natural history nerd is filled with hardship… 😛

  4. *that was once called Brontosaurus

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