Geese are surprisingly complicated for birds that seem to only swim and chase after any children with bread crusts. Even one of the most familiar North American birds may not be exactly what it seems. While this looks like a Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), there is a fair chance that current ornithologists would label it as a Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii). Slightly smaller and with more petite features than the Canada Goose, the Cackling Goose has had a long wait to be recognized as a separate species. At first, it was just assumed that some Canada Geese were smaller than others. After a while, researchers noticed that there seemed to be distinct size differences in the populations, determining that the smaller geese must be a subspecies of the Canada Goose. Finally, in 2004, the Cackling Goose was represented as its own species by the American Ornithologists’ Union, and as other experts began to agree, populations of these closely related geese have been marked as either the old or new species. The birds can still often be seen together, which makes for some great size comparisons, but they can also be distinguished by the proportions of their beaks. Which do you think this specimen is?
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