The Magpie Goose, also known as the Pied Goose, is a large black and white bird possessing a black head, neck, wings and lower back. The back shoulders, breast and belly are white. The face and base of the bill are pinkish red with the tip being darker grey. The mature cock bird possess a knob on its crown which is less prominent in the female. The feet are orange yellow colouration and partly webbed.
They are the only species from the family Anseranatidae. Their bill and facial structure is quite unique, and unlike all other Geese this species will moult over a period of time. Quite often one flight feather at a time. This means that they're never flightless, so in captivity it's important to keep this in mind.
Magpie Geese are a common species occurring in suitable coastal aquatic habitat from Queensland, across the gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory and far northern Western Australia. Generally they are more common in the northern regions. They have a preference for heavily vegetated watercourses and water meadows. Isolated populations have been recorded in New South Wales and Victoria. The bird occurs in PNG. Populations are declining due to draining of wetlands, water meadows, swamps and increased grazing.
Generally seasonal, with nesting commencing in spring and early summer, but extended when suitable conditions prevail. Ideal breeding conditions are subsiding high water levels after inundation when weed growth is lush and abundant.
The nest is a large bulky accumulation of swamp vegetation floating in water up to 2 metres deep. The nest is loosely anchored to live vegetation and may rise and fall a small distance with slight changes in water levels. Generally nesting is timed to occur during subsiding water levels but nests can be submerged when water levels rise unexpectedly with late rainfall. The nest is located above water level in waterside vegetation with the bulk of the vegetation being below water. The nest hollow is a deep bowl shaped lined with reeds and grasses. Down is not used.
Generally approximately 6 to 10 but occasionally as many as 16 or more if two females lay in the same nest. The eggs are oval glossy white and pitted, quickly become nest stained particularly after wet weather.
The Magpie Goose’s diet is composed predominantly of aquatic vegetation including rhizomes and grasses. Large flock aggregate to graze open pastures. During feeding they excavate deep holes feeding on aquatic plant roots and bulbs. In captivity they can be maintained on a quality pelleted diet and wet mashes. A range of fresh produce should be included in their diet, especially greens such as kale. Water should always be available for both drinking and bathing.
Magpie Geese are strong flyers and their housing needs to be appropriate to prevent injury due to impact with overhead netting restraint. Magpie Geese are known to be destructive in planted aviaries, feeding on new growth and damaging plantings. Pinioning has been used in the past but such practices are coming under increasing scrutiny. However when deciding to keep this species, one should keep in mind their sporadic moulting habits and weigh up the pros and cons with safely containing them. Like most Geese species, the Magpie Goose will tame significantly if hand reared and are an attractive waterfowl species.
Licencing requirement should be established for the state involved.
Text by John Urane