Bucket-List Birds, Part III: Big Fowl for the Wall

By author of The Duck Blog

Make man-cave room for geese, brant, swans and cranes

Some waterfowling buddies laugh whenever I mention geese, brant or swans for taxidermy.

“They all look the same,” they say. “One is just like another.”

Not true. Actually, the many varieties of Canada geese are distinctive. Sure, run-of-the-mill honkers seem pretty vanilla after a while, but we’re talking about bucket-list birds. And who can deny the visual appeal of snows, brant or a magnificent swan?

In the third installment of this taxidermy man-cave wish list, we’ll discuss my picks for the top five large waterfowl worthy of the wall.

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1 | Richardson's (Hutchins') Goose

I love cackling geese — small birds that resemble Canadas — and the subspecies I’ve encountered most often is the tiny Richardson’s, which might be slightly larger than a drake mallard. I’ve shot a few of these “squeakers” in central Wisconsin during September and October and didn’t hesitate to get a prime specimen mounted about 10 years ago.

Three cackling goose subspecies — Aleutian, cackling and Taverner’s — winter mostly west of the continental divide. Richardson’s winter mostly in southern Central Flyway states. With their unique coloration and short, stubby, triangle-shaped bills, all cacklers are certifiably cool.

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2 | Ross' Goose

Yep, another diminutive goose. These sharp-looking little birds are in the Chen genus along with snow geese. In fact, they look very similar to snow geese — including the black wingtips — but are about 40 percent smaller.

Spring conservation-order hunters encounter quite a few Ross’ geese. I’ve never shot one, though good buddy Jake Edson, of Vista Outdoors, brought one home from a South Dakota trip years ago, and I was immediately entranced by its appearance. There’s still plenty of room on my wall for a snow-white Ross’ goose.

Photo credit: © Steve Jamsa/Shutterstock

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Whistling (Tundra) Swan

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3 | Whistling (Tundra) Swan

These graceful giants made my bucket list years ago, when I heard their haunting cries high above central Wisconsin. Trouble is, we can’t hunt them here, despite dazzling numbers some years during the late season. I’ve drawn two North Dakota swan tags but never filled them, mostly because unseasonably warm weather seemingly delayed the migration.

But with their striking all-white plumage and incredible size (16 pounds for an average male), whistling swans remain high on my must-have list. I think a trip to North Carolina is in order.

Photo credit: © M. Carter/Shutterstock

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Atlantic Brant

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4 | Atlantic Brant

Biologists recognize two subspecies of North American brant: Pacific, or black brant, and Atlantic brant, which winter mostly along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina. These small, dark geese have short necks and relatively small heads and bills.

Some brant occasionally wander inland, but I’ve never seen one. A special place on my mantel remains open for an Atlantic brant to commemorate my first East Coast trip.

Photo credit: © Tom Reichner/Shutterstock

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Pacific Brant

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5 | Pacific Brant

OK, sure, this is kind of cheap. But hey, if I ever get an Atlantic brant, I might as well complement it with its Pacific cousin, right?

And it would be something to see migrant concentrations of black brant in northwestern Mexico and Baja, California, where biologists estimate most of the winter population from Russia, Japan and North America gathers. That could be a bucket-list must.

Photo credit: © Robert L. Kothenbeutel/Shutterstock

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6 | Epilogue

Wait, no mention of sandhill cranes? Many fowlers would love to pursue these unique birds. You’re right. Maybe cranes didn’t make this list, but we recognize the heavy interest in them. In fact, this Thursday, we’ll run a special feature on how to hunt cranes.

Meanwhile, don’t tell me there’s no room for geese, brant or a swan on your wall. With so many interesting species and subspecies, those big birds are more than worthy of taxidermy. You just need a larger wall.

Photo credit: © Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

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