A few days ago I blogged about the challenges Canada Goose identification and, once again, I have stumbled upon a group of vexing geese. Pictured above are two geese which I identified as Cackling Geese. This small group stood off from the larger flock of Canada Geese feeding in a nearby pond. I took several photos of these fellows as they walked around the grounds of a local city park. Pretty cool, right?
Then I noticed the goose to the left. This goose was ever so slightly taller than the other geese and has a white neck band. Otherwise, the goose has exactly the same coloration as the Cackling Geese with which it was associated and feeding. Oh my…what do I have now?
After arriving back home I spent quite a bit of time reviewing the identifications listed in The Sibley Guide to Birds. Not the little guide I carry into the field every day, but that big honking book that sits on my book shelf at home (you know which one, right? It sits on your book shelf too, I bet.).
So now the challenge. If I look at the descriptions in Sibley’s guide, I basically have two geese to chose from – the Aleutian form or the Richardson’s form. From the pictures and descriptions in the guide (page 75 of sixth printing, for those who are following along at home), the Richardson’s form has a short bill, pale breast, and is grayer than the larger forms. Hmmmm…my goose didn’t have a pale breast when compared to the Cackling Geese it was feeding with, and actually appeared to have the same coloration from various light angles.
The Aleutian form is nearly the same size as a Richardson’s, but has a dark brownish breast and white neck ring. Bingo! But wait……
A small note says that the white neck ring “occurs infrequently in all populations”.
So what is my goose? Based on the overall size and coloration, I called it an Aleutian form. But, a couple other extremely knowledgeable birders whom I trust and respect are wondering if it couldn’t be a Richardson’s form with a darker breast and neck ring.
So there you have it, dear reader. What is a birder to do? When do you trust the guide and when do you throw them all out the window?
Here’s my recommendation – Go outside and look at the birds!!! Try to do the best you can identifying birds with the guides you own. And above all things – have fun!