Bird Photo Challenge #13: Cape Barren Goose

One of the more striking waterbirds we see when we cruise around the Bass Strait Islands are the distinctive looking and territorial  Cape Barren Geese (Cereopsis novaehollandiae).  These make an interesting subject for our #13 Bird Photography Challenge.

What does it look like?

Beautiful hearts on the goose's back

Beautiful hearts on the goose’s back

The Cape Barren goose is so named as it was first observed by European explorers on Cape Barren Island in Eastern Bass Strait. It is a very large, pale grey goose with a relatively small head.  It has red eyes, a stubby triangular bill almost concealed by a very prominent greenish-yellow cere (skin above the bill).  Its grey plumage bears rounded or sometimes heart shaped black spots, as shown in this photo. The tail and flight feathers are blackish and the legs are pink with black feet. The Cape Barren goose is 75-100cm long, weighs 3-7kgs and has a 150-190cm wingspan. The whole bird looks quite striking with its odd mix of colours.

Did you know?

The Cape Barren Goose was once thought to be a juvenile black swan. The geese were hunted for food and by the middle of the last century, their numbers were so low that they were considered close to extinction.  Various initiatives have been taken which have increased their population, but they are still considered vulnerable and remain one of the world’s rarest geese.

How does it behave?

Cape Barren Geese

A pair at Maria Island, Tasmania

The Cape Barren Goose is a grazing bird, eating predominantly tussock grass, as well as spear grass and various herbs and succulents. It also eats pasture grasses, including barley and clover, and legumes. The Cape Barren Goose lays eggs in a nest in the tussocks of open grasslands which is is built by the male and lined with down. Each pair establishes a territory in autumn, prepares a nest and defends it noisily against other geese. This species is monogamous, and pairs bond for life. The young are brooded by both parents equally. During the breeding season, the geese can be extremely aggressive and will have no hesitation in chasing intruders including foxes, dogs and even humans!

The goose is usually quiet on the ground unless alarmed or in display. In flight it is far more vocal, with a high pitch trumpeted call.

Where is it found?

The Cape Barren Goose is found in Southern  coastal regions of Australia and in particular offshore Islands. The ability to drink salty or brackish water allows a large number of geese to remain on the islands all year round.

Here is a selection of photos taken on Hogan and Deal Islands in Eastern Bass Strait  and on Maria Island off the Tasmanian East coast, with a hand-held Canon 60D camera and a Tamron 18-270mm lens.

Click on any image to display in full screen.

12 thoughts on “Bird Photo Challenge #13: Cape Barren Goose

  1. Hi Takeiteasy. I am loving your coverage of the Birdlife as you travel around Tassie. From Di in Mackay QLD

  2. Always remember being chased by one of these at the Melbourne Zoo walk through wildlife section when I was a small child. Still terrified of them.

    • Hi Henry – Yes they are territorial and big. I would not like to get nipped by one of them, but they are an amazing mix of colours… and Bengie likes to play with their feathers (the ones we collect when they have dropped off on the ground, that is). We have a picture of her on our previous boat when she was a kitten with this huge feather across her mouth, parading with crazy eyes and just about losing her balance from the size of it!

  3. Hi folks. Yes Cape Barren Geese are great birds. However we appreciated them for different reasons to you, WE ATE THEM. In 1959 Pam & I visited an old Air Force mate of mine who drew a soldier settlement block on Flinders Island. We spent a few days with them, & probably to add to our experience, they fed us on lobsters, fish, mutton birds, & Cape Barren Geese…….I would have given anything for a feed of roast beef or steak..Love Frank

    • OMG Frank, lobsters and fish we love, but the geese… that can’t be good. Tough old birds! Wade secretly envies you for having tasted them and the mutton birds. Locals on Flinders Island told us that they taste very oily – the mutton birds that is! I think the geese are protected these days… I have no desire to taste the beasties!

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