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Taking a Gander at Geese
By Kyle Carlsen
Assistant Editor | Bird Watcher's Digest
The sights and sounds of geese have long been associated with wild places. Most of our geese breed on northern tundra, meaning we get to see them only when they wander south for the winter, populating our marshes, fields, lakes, and ponds. An exception is, of course, the Canada goose—a widespread species that has adapted well to habitat changes and is now easily found in most states and provinces, even in urban areas. Are you a wild goose expert? Let's see how well you know your honkers.
How many native goose species regularly occur in North America?
Which goose breeds farther north than any other?
a) Canada goose
b) Cackling goose
d) Ross's goose
How long does it take food to pass through a goose's digestive system?
a) An hour or two
b) Five or six hours
c) About a day
d) A week or more
Which goose is also called Specklebelly?
a) Cackling goose
b) Snow goose
c) Emperor goose
d) Greater white-fronted goose
What characteristic helps to separate Ross's geese from snow geese?
a) Smaller and stubbier bills
b) Smaller bodies
c) No black "lips"
d) All of the above
Where do most geese nest?
a) Near the top of a tall tree
b) On a cliff ledge
c) On the ground
d) In a cave
For whom was Ross's goose named?
a) Bob Ross
b) Betsy Ross
c) Bernard Ross
d) Ross Geller
True or false?
Canada geese are common year-round residents throughout the United States and Canada.
What city is the Wild Goose Capital of the World?
a) Cincinnati, Ohio
b) Sumner, Missouri
c) Luckenbach, Texas
d) Saginaw, Michigan
Contributor | Bird Watcher's Digest
Separating black-capped and Carolina chickadees in the field may be one of the most difficult and underappreciated problems bird watchers face. To understand why they are a problem, you need to know something about where each species occurs, what happens where they both occur, and what happens in invasion years.
Black-capped and Carolina chickadees are fairly closely related, which should be clear to anyone who looks at the pictures in the field guide. It is not so obvious that they are not each other's closest relatives. The latest evidence shows that black-cappeds are more closely related to mountain chickadees than they are to Carolinas, despite the fact that telling black-capped from mountain is not usually difficult.
Black-cappeds are the more northern species and Carolinas are southern. In all but a very few years, the only identification problem exists where the range of the two species overlap—a line running roughly through central New Jersey, southern Pennsylvania, and central Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and south in the Appalachian Mountains. Finding the precise area of overlap requires checking local sources, such as a state breeding bird atlas or regional bird lists and books.
The good news is that if you live north of the range of Carolina chickadees, every bird you see is a black-capped. There is virtually no evidence that Carolinas ever wander north, although I am not sure how you would tell for certain if one did. South of the range of black-capped, all the birds are Carolinas. Black-cappeds do move south in some years, at least a few hundred miles into the range of Carolinas. According to data from banders and other sources, it appears that these movements happened once, and only once, per decade in the twentieth century. Otherwise there is no discernible pattern, and the movements do not seem related to the movements of other northern birds. Black-cappeds do what black-cappeds do.
The problem of chickadee identification can be divided into two sections: The range of overlap and invasion years. As you will see, they are very different problems, indeed.
Banding returns show that in invasion years, the black-cappeds that move into the range of Carolinas do not come from the areas close to the overlap zone. They come from the Far North, and that makes it considerably easier. Black-capped chickadees from north of the Canada border are much larger than black-cappeds from farther south, so the other differences between the two species become more obvious. In the region where the two meet during the breeding season, they are most alike in size, plumage, and vocalizations. The reasons are too complicated to go into here. Just be glad that the invaders travel a long way.