The Cape Barren goose belongs to the Anseriformes order, in the Anatidae family, its scientific name is Cereopsis novaehollandiae, from the greek “keros” meaning “wax” and “opsis” that means “similar” as its beak is covered with a waxy looking substance, while the second name, “novahollandiae” refers to the origins of this special goose: the southern coast of Australia, which during the first half of the 17th century, was discovered by Dutch explorers, that wrongly thought it was a deserted and uninteresting island, and after unoriginally naming it “New Holland” they moved on their oceanic journeys, ignoring how great was the land they’ve just discovered.
Everything you need to know about the Cape Barren goose:
This species is originally of the Australian continent where it inhabits the south-eastern coast, including the Bass Strait’s Island and Tasmania. In the wild it nests in the bush and tall grass of islands, lakefronts and lagoons. When the reproductive season comes to an end, the Cape Barren goose, becomes partly erratic, mostly to go look for new prairies where to feed; some specimens can be observed moving from islands to the coasts of and even more inland; on the opposite, other specimens, prefer to just stay on the islands; arriving to occupy even the ones further away in the open seas thanks to their ability of drinking salty water.
The Cape Barren goose it’s a marvellous bird which, unfortunately, often becomes subject of persecution from the farmers of the plowed field where it goes to feed from time to time. Right before the end of the 20th century this species was on the verge of extinction, nowadays the total population seems stable and it’s estimated to be around 16.000 – 18.000 units. It used to be present in New Zealand too, however it disappeared after an introduction that lasted only a few decades. Luckily, some of the Australian island where the Cape Barren goose regularly nests are now natural reserves, where this species can thrive in peace. In the insular Australian state of Tasmania, however, this goose can still be hunted through a system of limited concessions.
- Scientific name: Cereopsis novaehollandie.
- Weight: 3.1 – 5.5 kg.
- Length: 75 – 105 cm.
- Wingspan: 160 – 185 cm.
- Age: Up to 17 years.
- Diet: It feeds on small fish, mollusks, snails, gems, berries, buds and seeds. In captivity they adapt to eat whatever they receive.
- Habitat: It inhabits islands and the coastal bare areas without much vegetation of southern Australia and Tasmania.
- Threats: Reduction of the breeding grounds in order to turn them into agricultural fields is the main threat of the Cape Barren goose, while in the wild its also a prey for several predators including foxes and racoons.
The female specimens of the Cape Barren goose are on average smaller than the male, but apart from that they’re very similar and the main difference it’s actually their call: the female emits a rather recognizable grunt, just like that of a pig, while the male emits a much more typical “kwak kwak” sound, just like many other species of geese. This species of goose, as shown by its not very webbed feet, is not particularly fond of swimming and usually goes into the water only during the moulting period, moment in which it becomes more vulnerable, as it temporarily looses its ability to fly, becoming much more exposed to lurking predators.
Its plumage is of a pleasant and homogenous light grey shade, with a triangle shaped pattern featuring on the covering feathers, this same pattern is also present on the back’s feathers in a bigger size and more diluted. Its flight feathers are blackish-grey; the dark tail and the dark edges of the wings can be clearly observed when it’s in flight. The beak is short and black covered in a waxy substance, which surrounds also the nostrils and its colored in a very bright yellow-green. Its feet are strong and partially webbed, bright pink in color with a tip of black.
Its present on the coastal areas and on the islands of south eastern Australia, including the Bass Strait’s islands and Tasmania. It spend its days grazing on land, and its favorite nesting sites are grassy areas, bush and tussock grass areas. In other seasons can also be seen in pastures near the coast, lagoons and lakes. It rarely migrates or move if the surrounding environmental conditions allows for enough food.
The Cape Barren goose feeds in small groups in the open countryside and in muddy areas mainly eating grass, seeds and buds of various kinds and legumes, especially wheat and barley that it “steals” from the agricultural fields. But it also feeds on small fish, invertebrates and mollusks. Unlike other species of geese, which feed during the night, these species feed when the sun is already high and after sunset they return to coastal areas.
It’s up to the male to prepare the nest, in a safe area, without vegetation and usually on rocky cliffs. The female lays up to 5/6 eggs which are incubated for about 30/35 days; the mother will lose up to 1/5 of its body weight during the hatching period. The little ones are very attached to their parents, who take care of them with extreme attention and dedication. The young become completely independent after about 10/11 weeks. The Cape Barren goose is a sedentary species, which moves only to feed and, already after the first year of life, forms the couple which usually remains united forever. After the third year they reach complete sexual maturity and mating always takes place on land and never in water.
Classified as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List the total population of Cape Barren gees is estimated to be about 16.000 – 18.000, of which 11.000 – 12.000 are mature individuals, its global population is not considered endangered and its stable in numbers. After risking extinction due to intensive hunting in the last century, this bird is now finally protected by wildlife conservation organizations, however threats are still there for the Cape Barren goose as more and more of its habitat is turned into agricultural land, therefore reducing its traditional breeding grounds.
Federico Fiorillo is an Italian nature guide and content writer based in the magnificent Val de Bagnes, Switzerland. He’s an avid hiker and snowboarder and he travels to the great wilderness areas of the world to see the wildlife and birds he’s passionate about.
In 2008 and 2011 he joined two Brazilian wildlife field trips in Bahia and decided that observing birds in their habitat was going to be one of his driving passions. He completed a birdwatching course with EBN Italia in 2013, and then in 2014 and 2015 he travelled to South East Asia, Australia and the United States where he joined a photographic workshop at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah.
From 2016 to 2018 he lives in New Zealand, where he collaborates in environmental projects at the Otorohanga Kiwi House, which since 1971 protects kiwi and other New Zealand native birds, among the projects he worked hands on the most rewarding was the one aiming to release Brown Kiwis into the wild.
In 2017, he completes a backcountry survival course obtaining the skillsets needed to thrive in-stead of just survive in the face of adversity in the wilderness. In 2017 he also joins a NZ Bird Photography Tour in Ulva Island and at the Royal Albatross Center of the Otago Peninsula, home to the world’s only mainland Royal Albatross breeding colony.
After his travels across the South Pacific, following his experiences in 2018 he moves in the Swiss Alps where he’s now a nature guide leading tours in the alpine region between Switzerland, Italy and France. Leading nature walks and overnight hiking trips, teaching tourists and locals the secrets of the plants and animals living in this alpine region.
Inspired by an alternative lifestyle he believes in the importance of being in connection with the natural environment and feels the responsibility of interpreting the natural wealth of a site, educating and informing other of the different aspects of that particular area.