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In case any St. Louis area birders want to try for a nice close view 
of a Cackling Goose, I had such a view yesterday on the Illinois 
side, along 143 just east of Alton where the creek and mud are very 
close to the road shoulder and ducks and geese often congregate.

This Cackling Goose was a single individual standing on mud among 
many Canadas of varying sizes, and close to some Mallards and Gadwall 
for a good size comparison. The size was just a little larger than a 
Mallard, the neck was very short, and the bill was very short and 
stubby. Roughly speaking, it presented the appearance of a Ross's 
Goose that had been painted to look like a Canada. The close view 
also allowed us to see that the breast right below the black neck was 
a very pale grayish-white, and that the upperparts were a little 
lighter and grayer in tone than the Canadas, with more prominent pale 
feather edgings forming a barred pattern (some sources call this a 
"silvery" look, but I wouldn't overstate how obvious or useful it 
is). The Canadas were quite brown with only obscure edgings on the 
back feathers.

While this species is apparently not a rare bird around here, its 
pattern of occurrence is not very clear. Several web sites discuss 
the Cackling/Canada problem, a subject of much debate. For a good 
start, go to http://www.sibleyguides.com/canada_cackling.htm.  As 
stated by the MBRC last year, reports of Cackling Geese (at least in 
Missouri, which is all we can presume to give advice on) should be 
limited to carefully observed birds where the small size and stubby 
bill can be seen clearly, and preferably in direct comparison with 
large ducks like Mallards, or maybe with Snow and/or Ross's Geese. 
Comparing a presumed Cackling only to Canadas is trickier because of 
the wide size and bill variation in the latter -- i.e., small Canadas 
next to really big Canadas might fool you.

Reminder: the only form of the Cackling species known to occur in 
Missouri (or Illinois, I think) is the "Richardson's" Goose. 
Apparently this form itself varies somewhat in size, and a larger 
bird might be confusable with a small Canada (like a "Lesser" Canada, 
if indeed those occur here). But from all available information, an 
identification is safe if the birds are seen well and you can get a 
good comparison for judgment of size and bill.

Bill Rowe
St. Louis

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