2016-01-28 / Nature

Geese Gathering on the Island

By Jack Kelly


Cackling geese are like a miniature Canada geese. Normally this species breeds in the high Arctic and spends its winters in the middle of the continent or along the Pacific coast. 
(Photos by Matt Schenck/Norman Bird Sanctuary) Cackling geese are like a miniature Canada geese. Normally this species breeds in the high Arctic and spends its winters in the middle of the continent or along the Pacific coast. (Photos by Matt Schenck/Norman Bird Sanctuary) Most local residents are accustomed to seeing large flocks of migratory Canada geese foraging in the fields, meadows, and along any number of grassy stretches on Aquidneck Island. Occasionally, however, nature will gift local enthusiasts with other transient goose species, which may include single or multiple representatives of snow geese, greater white-fronted geese, Ross’s geese, barnacle geese, cackling geese and others.

These special visitors can usually be found mixed in with the feeding or swimming Canada geese populations. Geese are quite gregarious and will accept other species into their wintering flocks, both for mutual protection and company. Recent sightings on Aquidneck Island include cackling geese, both juvenile and adult snow geese, a greater white-fronted goose, and two adult blue geese.


A juvenile snow goose feeds recently at Hammersmith Farm. 
(Photo by Jack Kelly) A juvenile snow goose feeds recently at Hammersmith Farm. (Photo by Jack Kelly) The blue goose is a subspecies or “dark morph” of the snow goose breed. It has a white head, orange bill, and blue body and wing plumage. Like the rest of its species, it nests in the far northern Canadian Arctic tundra, south to Hudson Bay, and winters in farm fields and marshes of the southern U.S. in flocks of many thousands.

Adult snow geese are essentially white overall with the exception of an orange bill, orange legs and feet, and black primaries which are visible in flight. Resting or foraging snow geese show the dark primaries at the tail. Juvenile snow geese are grayish overall and show a dark bill, legs, and feet.

Cackling geese are a sub-species of Canada geese and are distinctly smaller than their larger cousins. Cackling geese possess a smaller head and bill, shorter neck, dark breast, and plumage colors which are darker overall. They nest in the Arctic tundra of northern Canada and Alaska, and winter in the southern U.S.


Snow geese may be blue or white. Recently three snow geese have been observed at the Norman Bird Sanctuary and its nearby meadows. Snow geese may be blue or white. Recently three snow geese have been observed at the Norman Bird Sanctuary and its nearby meadows. The greater white-fronted goose breeds in the Arctic tundra and muskeg of Canada and Alaska, and winters across regions in the western U.S. It has a rich mixture of browns and darker plumage colors, and it displays a pinkish-orange bill, a white facial patch behind the bill, and orange feet and legs. The rich diversity of nature is on display across Newport County and is represented by a number of waterfowl species, including duck and goose breeds.

Many of the geese, as well as other wintering birds, are foraging on private property. It is important to respect owners' property rights. In recent weeks, overzealous individuals have breached the accepted protocols practiced by the vast majority of birders and photographers, which resulted in a snowy owl at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge being chased away, and numerous disturbances to a sandhill crane in Tiverton. Other incidents have been reported, with the end result being that conscientious birders are robbed of an opportunity to view true wonders of nature here in our own state. Please think before charging onto private property or disturbing a bird by getting too close.


Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. For more information on waterfowl, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at allaboutbirds.org. To check the latest sightings in the region, visit the Audubon Society of Rhode Island at asri.org or call 401- 949-5454. Also consult the Norman Bird Sanctuary at normanbirdsanctuary.org or call 401-846-2577.

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