Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata)

Magpie Goose

[order] ANSERIFORMES | [family] Anseranatidae | [latin] Anseranas semipalmata | [authority] Latham, 1798 | [UK] Magpie Goose | [FR] Canaroie semipalme | [DE] Spaltfussgans | [ES] Ganso Urraco | [NL] Ekstergans


Monotypic species


The Magpie Goose, Anseranas semipalmata, is a waterbird species found in coastal northern Australia and savannah in southern New Guinea. It is a unique member of the order Anseriformes, and arranged in a family and genus distinct from all other living waterfowl. The Magpie Goose is a resident breeder in northern Australia and in southern New Guinea. This species is placed in the order Anseriformes, having the characteristic bill structure, but is considered to be distinct from the other species in this taxon. The related and extant families, Anhimidae (screamers) and Anatidae (ducks, geese and swans), contain all the other taxa. The Magpie Goose is contained in the genus Anseranas and family Anseranatidae, which are monotypic in our age. A cladistic study of the morphology of waterfowl found that the Magpie Goose was an early and distinctive offshoot, diverging after screamers and before all other ducks, geese and swans. This family is quite old, a living fossil, having apparently diverged before the Cretaceous?Paleogene mass extinction ? the relative Vegavis iaai lived some 68-67 million years ago. The fossil record is limited, nonetheless. The enigmatic genus Anatalavis (Hornerstown Late Cretaceous or Early Paleocene of New Jersey, USA – London Clay Early Eocene of Walton-on-the-Naze, England) is sometimes considered to be the earliest known anseranatid. Other Paleogene birds sometimes considered magpie-geese are the genera Geranopsis from the Hordwell Formation Late Eocene to the Early Oligocene of England and Anserpica from the Late Oligocene of Billy-Crechy (France). The Australian distribution of the living species ties in well with the presumed Gondwanan origin of Anseriformes, but Northern Hemisphere fossils are puzzling. Perhaps the magpie-geese were one of the dominant groups of Paleogene waterfowl, only to become largely extinct later.

Physical charateristics

The Magpie Goose is a large, distinctive black and white water-bird (from 70 – 90 cm long) with a prominent knob on the head, and orange legs. It is black at each ‘end’ – head, neck and upper chest, plus rump and tail – with white body and wings in between. Immature birds have no head-knob and their white parts are mottled grey or brown. It is not a duck or goose, but is regarded as a primitive relative of them.

Listen to the sound of Magpie Goose

[audio: Goose.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 130 cm wingspan max.: 180 cm
size min.: 75 cm size max.: 90 cm
incubation min.: 23 days incubation max.: 25 days
fledging min.: 72 days fledging max.: 80 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 5  
      eggs max.: 11  


Australasia : New Guinea, North Australia. The Magpie Goose is widespread throughout coastal northern and eastern Australia. It can be seen from Fitzroy River, Western Australia, through northern Australia to Rockhampton, Queensland, and has been extending its range into coastal New South Wales to the Clarence River and further south.


The Magpie Goose is seen in floodplains and wet grasslands. Some individuals, mostly younger birds, may be seen at quite long distances inland.


During the breeding season, Magpie Geese build nests in secluded places, usually close to wetlands. The nest is almost single-handedly constructed by the male. It usually consists of a simple unlined cup placed either in a floating platform of trampled reeds or built in tree-tops. Pairs of geese mate for life, but a male may have two females. Two females may occasionally use the same nest to lay the large, oval, off-white coloured eggs. All adults share incubation and care for the young. Clutch size: Up to 16 eggs for 2 females, but 8 more common. The eggs are incubated for about 25 days and just two more days to fledge.

Feeding habits

Large, noisy flocks of up to a few thousand birds congregate to feed on aquatic vegetation. The Magpie Goose is a specialized feeder with wild rice, Oryza, Paspalum, Panicum and spike-rush, Eleocharis, forming the bulk of its diet

Video Magpie Goose


copyright: Nick Talbot


This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be fluctuating, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Major potential threats to Magpie goose populations include habitat removal and degradation to wetlands, climate change leading to saltwater intrusion, invasion of wetlands by introduced hooved animals and the increase of wetland weeds such as Mimosa pigra.
Magpie Goose status Least Concern


Not migratory but move depending on the availability of suitable habitat

Distribution map

Magpie Goose distribution range map

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