Small white-cheeked geese … ‘parvipes’?

2009 March 17

DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — Last week, I photographed a small flock of white-cheeked geese in Lakewood, Colorado. I didn’t spend much time with them because I was on my way to a wedding rehearsal. I noted that the birds looked rather small and snapped a few pictures to study later.


Until about five years ago, hardly anyone would have given these birds a second glance — they’d have been reported as Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). But now that several former subspecies of the Canada Goose have been split off as Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii), we’re all paying a little more attention to those white-cheeked geese. And that’s a good thing. It’s also really confusing.

Geese, to put it crudely, are a mess. And I’m not referring to what they do in parks and golf courses. They are extremely variable, and plumage features very often belie genetic heritage and reproductive behavior. We still have a whole lot to learn about them.

So, take a look at these:


Canada or Cackling? On one hand, they are obviously small, relatively short-necked, and relatively short-billed. On the other hand, their bills are definitely not tiny or stubby, and the upper mandible seems slightly concave. Their heads slope at fairly gentle angles too.

For these reasons, I decided that the flock was probably a group of Lesser Canada Geese, Branta canadensis parvipes. If I’m reading Sibley’s map correctly, B. c. parvipes migrates through central Colorado. However, I’d very much like to hear from any of you who might have an opinion or more facts.

In parting, here’s another cropped shot. The bird on the left leaves me scratching my head:


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