Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Cackling Goose - Branta hutchinsii
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General Comments The Cackling Goose is a rare to very locally uncommon but increasing winter resident (near the coast) and winter visitor inland, mainly in large concentrations of Canada Geese, and occasionally with Snow Geese. This species was long considered as a subspecies of Canada Goose, and it was not until 2004 that several of the subspecies of Canada Goose were split off into a separate species named as the Cackling Goose. Until the split in 2004, the NC BRC had never reviewed reports of the species, and it is very likely that "Cacklings" were under-reported prior to this date, as some field guides did not treat the (multiple) subspecies, or as some observers probably did not bother to report subspecies. Records are greatly increasing in recent years, but this may be most likely due to the fact that now the Cackling Goose is considered a valid species, observers are scrutinizing goose flocks and reporting and photographing the species. Thus, it is impossible to put a true number on the records of Cackling Goose in the state. There are two additional concerns: reports of the species must be judged in terms of provenance, as Cackling Geese might be kept in captivity; and this "new" species can be quite difficult to separate in the field from smaller individuals of Canada Goose, mainly the Lesser Canada Goose (Branta canadensis parviceps). Thus, some older, un-reviewed reports might be of incorrectly identified birds or of birds that might represent escapes. At any rate, a few reports, with photos, have been reviewed and accepted by the NC BRC since 2004, and the species is on the Official List; the NC BRC seldom now reviews report of the species.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S1N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Rare to locally uncommon winter resident, to the eastern (tidewater and north coastal) portions, almost always at refuges and other areas where hundreds to thousands of other geese are present, such as Mattamuskeet NWR and Pungo refuge. Reports are greatly increasing, though this might be an artifact of better awareness of field marks and more thorough birder coverage. One well inland report -- one on the Southern Pines CBC on 16 Dec 2007. Dates range between mid-Nov and late Feb. Peak counts: 24, Pungo refuge (Washington), 5 Feb 2017, with 20 there on 26 Feb 2017; 20, pond just east of Creswell (Washington), 25 Jan - 27 Feb 2020; 14, at that last pond, 7 Jan 2021; 10 at that pond, 26 Feb 2023. Away from that pond site, peaks counts are: 9, Mattamuskeet NWR, 17 Dec 2022; 8, Mattamuskeet NWR, from 29 Dec 2004 - 26 Jan 2005 [Chat 69:74 link]; 7, where US 64 crosses Beasley Road (Washington), 6 Jan 2017.
Piedmont Formerly casual, but now a rare winter visitor to the western Piedmont, but still (oddly) very rare in the eastern Piedmont; records greatly increasing in recent years. One was seen at Gaddy's Pond (Anson) in Jan 1947 (Pearson et al., 1959). In recent years -- three photographed reports from Forsyth: one on 28 Dec 2002, one 23 Jan - 20 Feb 2009 [Chat 73:52 link], and one 20 Dec 2011 - mid-Jan 2012 [Chat 76:51 link]; three near Morganton (Burke), 12-18 Jan 2012 [Chat 76:51 link]; one at Lake Hickory (Catawba), 8-11 Mar 2012 [Chat 76:107 link]; and one on Grogan Lake in Mayodan (Rockingham), 25 Jan 2013 [Chat 77:45 link]. In the winter of 2014-15, it was seen at three locations, two in Forsyth and one in Alexander. In the winter of 2015-16, there were four Regional reports, three from Wilkes; but there was just one report in the winter of 2016-17. There were at least three reports for the winter 2018-19, but just one for 2019-2020. Peak counts: 10 near Salem Lake (Forsyth), 31 Dec 2014 - 24 Feb 2015.
Mountains Very rare winter visitor (but nearly all in the southern counties). At least 8 reports: Lake Junaluska (Haywood), 27 Dec 2004 - 8 Jan 2005* [Chat 69:74 link]; Lake Julian (Buncombe), 30 Dec 2004 - 2 Jan 2005 [Chat 69:74 link]; Lake Junaluska, 22 Jan 2011 [Chat 75:61 link]; Maggie Valley (Haywood), 30 Jan 2011 [Chat 75:61 link]; along NC 191 (Henderson), 16-19 Jan 2013 [Chat 77:45 link]; Lake Junaluska, 11 Jan 2020 and again on 23 Apr and 26 Apr 2020; and in the northern mountains at Swiss Pine Lake (Mitchell), 4 Feb 2024. All records are of single birds.
Finding Tips Look for this species in fields at Pungo refuge, at Lake Mattamuskeet or in nearby fields, or at Pea Island -- usually amid flocks of Canada Geese. The borrow pond on the southwestern side of the intersection of US 64 and Beasley Road (Washington) has had a handful of recent records, as it has also for Ross's Goose. A borrow pond a few miles farther east in this county, near the Tyrrell line, has also had multiple records. Be careful with your identification, as there are small (Lesser) Canada Geese within most such flocks, and it might be easy to "turn" a small Canada Goose into a Cackling.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-08], LeGrand[2023-05-17], LeGrand[2023-03-01]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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