A Goose By Any Other Name…

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Canada goose [Branta canadensis maxima]  - by Lowell Washburn by Lowell Washburn

With incredible weights attaining 10, 12, and rarely even 15 pounds, its easy to see where Iowa’s homegrown, corn fed giant Canada goose [Branta canadensis maxima] gets its name.

But when it comes to determining the proper name of our smallest subspecies of Canada goose, the water becomes more cloudy. Commonly referred to as Hutchins’ goose, Hutchie, cackling goose, squealer, and even brant — no other bird name is surrounded by more confusion.

Weighing roughly the same as a drake mallard [some mallards are actually heavier], Hutchins’ Canada geese are best known for small size, stubby bills, and high pitched call. Enduring the longest migration of any North American goose, Hutchins’ Canadas nest on the remote tundras of arctic Canada. In fall, they migrate southward through prairie Canada, the Dakotas, and Iowa. Primary wintering areas are found along the sunny coastal marshes of Texas and Mexico.

In spite of its scientific name — Branta canadensis hutchinsi — many hunters are surprised to learn that the familiar Hutchins’ goose isn’t really a “Hutch” at all, but is properly referred to as the Richardson’s Canada goose.

Here’s how the confusion began. According to historic text, the species was first reported by Sir John Richardson from a goose killed north of Hudson Bay in 1822. Although Richardson named the ‘new’ species after himself, Sir John promptly assigned the bird the scientific name of “Hutchinsi” after Thomas Hutchins who was a former naturalist, fur buyer, and accountant for the famous Hudson’s Bay Company. Oddly enough, the scientific name seems to be the only one that stuck, and the species has been incorrectly referred to as a “Hutchie” ever since.

During the 1960s, large numbers of Hutchins’ geese [I still call them that myself] always arrived in Iowa during the third week of September. This migration was followed by mass arrival of snow geese during mid-October. Neither of these arctic nesting species appeared to have encountered much in the way of hunting pressure before arriving here and were easy pickings for Iowa hunters.

Tame and trusting, flocks of Hutchins’ geese would eagerly respond to the most inept calling [You should have heard us] and minimal spreads of crude decoys.

But times have changed. Although legions of Hutchins’ Canada geese still arrive in Iowa each autumn, they are now among the most wary of all wildfowl. Contemporary Hutchins’ can tell decoys from the real thing from a mile away, and putting one in the roaster usually requires abnormal weather conditions such as driving sleet, snow, or better yet, fog. But whether the noisy flocks make it all the way into the decoys or not, just the opportunity to thrill to the sight and sound of these tiny arctic travelers makes the outdoor adventure well worth the effort.