Is this a Leucistic Canada Goose or a domestic breed?
9 June 2002, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Queens County, New York


Partially leucistic Canada Geese can be found in most large flocks but wholly white birds are far more uncommon. Here are some photos of a candidate taken recently on the West Pond at Jamaica Bay, Wildlife Refuge just outside New York City.

The important question is whether this is indeed a leucisitic* Canada Goose (as I assumed at the time), a hybrid (e.g. Snow x Canada) or a domestic goose of some kind. I favoured the former option but was shot down in flames when I canvassed the collective expertise of ID-Frontiers (summarized below).

In terms of structure and size, the bird closely resembled the local Canada Geese except a small (but niggling) difference in the shape of the head and bill. As shown most clearly in Figs 2 and 3, the forehead lacked the smooth, ski jump like slope of most Atlantic Canada Geese and the bill appeared slightly deeper at the base.

I can image that the pigmentation defect might alter the flexibility or intermeshing of the feathers in such as way that the contouring is effected (hence difference in head shape) and likewise the development of the bill plates may be influenced by lack of normal pigment. Is there any basis to support such speculation?

[*I use the term leucistic rather than albino because the bird clearly has some pigmentation on the bill and has dark rather than red eyes. In his field guide, David Sibley uses leucistic to describe unusually pale plumages that retain a hint of the normal patterning.]


Fig. 1. The mystery goose cruising around on the West Pond with a group of local [Atlantic] Canada Geese (Branta canadensis canadensis). The bird was similar in shape and size to the Canada Geese, although at some angles it seemed a little larger and longer necked. This could simply be a case of individual variation or possibly a visual artifact of the white plumage.


Fig. 2. This side view shows the slight difference in head and bill shape compared to the Canada Geese. The bill seems deeper nearer the base while at the same time, the forehead appeared less steep with a more obvious bulge as it curves onto the crown.


Fig. 3. Another side view, again showing the slightly bulging forehead. The bill was relatively long and lacked any hint of a grin patch typical of Greater or Lesser Snow Goose.


Fig. 4. More detail of the bill. Note the uneven splashes of dark pigmentation on the orange bill. The legs and eye ring were a similar brilliant orange.



Here are comments received in response to my post to the ID-Frontiers discussion group. There was unanimous agreement in favor of a domesticated goose, although there was a less clear consensus on the type of 'farm goose'. I thought the argument based on soft part coloration (orange not pink) was particularly persuasive.

This bird has the head and body shape as well as the neck feather pattern of the Toulouse Goose, a domestic variety that I raised
as kid until I went to college.  I would doubt that there is any Canada Goose genes is this individual at all.  It is likely whiter as it is the result of a cross between some other white domestic goose and a Toulouse.  These crosses are quite common. In fact I had an African Goose/Toulouse Goose cross that looked a lot like this bird except that it had a large bulb at the top of the beak.
Jeff Holbrook, New York USA

I agree with Jeffrey as I have seen leucistic Canada Goose on the west coast and they look exactly like a normal Canada Goose, except they are a very light beige tone. Quite attractive actually. I have also seen Snow Goose  x Canada Goose and they tend to be very easy to ID, with the body being mainly Canada and the Neck/Head of the Snow. The bill tends to be very Canada Goose shaped, with a dark colour.
Michael Beck, Vancouver Canada

Looks like a hybrid Canada x Domestic Goose/Albino Greylag Goose. Forsome canadax (normally colored) Greylag geese have a look at my web page http://www.astro.utu.fi/hlehto/photo/hybrid. Note that the bill patterns in some of these hybrids is similar to your bird. You bird has strong oranges in the bill and the feet. I would expect them to pink in albino Canadians
(as in albino Mute swans -- see http://www.astro.utu.fi/hlehto/photo/color/cygolo.shtml )
Harry Lehto, Finland

I agree with Jeffrey Holbrook; domestic. A leucisticCanada would still have black legs: an albino would have paler legs but not this bright orange. The wing/tail relationship also looks rather different from the accompanying Canadas.
Peter Wilkinson, Wheathampstead England

We used to get a handful of geese like your pale one on Cayuga Lake, and we IDed them as "barnyard" geese (the head and bill being unscientifically "decisive" as it were); we also saw birds that were essentially cream or white Canadas; on the dilute-plumaged (leucistic) birds, there would typically be a hint of a white face patch.
Ned Brinkley, Virginia USA

I do not think it is [a leucistic Canada]....my first and gut reaction was that because of the bill, the neck feathers, it just strikes me as not a Canada. Can't be more specific.
Ann MacDonald, West Vancouver Canada

I think Julian Hough also commented on the degree of ruffling on the neck feathers but I have missplaced his email. Canada Goose has some of this patterning (as do most geese) which is hard to see on the black plumage but I agree this seems extreme.

Many thanks to those who took the time to reply to my request.


All photos and text copyright of Angus Wilson 2002.