Bird O'clock

10 Fascinating Facts about the Cape Barren Goose

The Cape Barren Goose or Cereopsis novaehollandiae is a large, flightless bird native to Australia. These geese are considered one of the rarest species on the planet, with an estimated population of only 5,000-6,000 individuals.

Their unique appearance and behavior make them a fascinating subject for bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.


Field Identification

Cape Barren Geese are easy to identify due to their distinctive appearance. They are a large bird, measuring up to 100 cm in length and 2.5 kg in weight.

They have a grey-brown body with pale grey-white feathers on their belly, underwing, and rump. Their head is bare-skinned, blue-green in color with a black knob above the bill.

The bill is green, and the legs and feet are dark grey.

Similar Species

Cape Barren Geese have often been mistaken for other goose species, but their distinctive appearance and behavior make them easy to distinguish. They share some similarities with the Snow Goose of North America, but their lack of feather patterns and blue-green knob distinguish them.

They also resemble the Upland Goose found in South America but can be differentiated by their knob and blue-green face.


The Cape Barren Goose has two molts in a year: the breeding, and the non-breeding. The breeding molts occur in October to February, while the non-breeding molts occur from March to September.

During breeding, the birds have a more vibrant blue-green color around their head, knob, and neck. They also have a sight difference in size and weight, being a bit bulkier than in non-breeding.


The molting process of Cape Barren Geese occurs in two stages: primary feathers and body feathers. During the primary molt, the birds drop their primary wing feathers, which are then replaced with new ones.

This process usually occurs in February to March. During the body molt, they drop all their feathers, which are fully replaced with new ones.

This process usually occurs in April to June. Cape Barren Geese are known for their longevity, with an average lifespan of 20-25 years in the wild.

They are slow breeders, with only one nest per year that contains two to five eggs. In conclusion, the Cape Barren Goose is a unique and fascinating bird species that is native to Australia.

They are easily recognizable with their unique appearance and behavior, and their molting process is remarkable. Despite their rarity, conservation efforts are underway to preserve this species for future generations to come.

Systematics History

The Cape Barren Goose or Cereopsis novaehollandiae belongs to the family Anatidae, which includes ducks, geese, and swans. It was first described by English ornithologist George Shaw in 1790.

Geographic Variation

Cape Barren Geese are found in the coastal regions of southern Australia, Tasmania, and several offshore islands. They are sedentary birds, thus do not migrate and tend to remain in their range throughout the year.


There are currently no recognized subspecies of Cape Barren Goose, but there is a notable morphological variation between populations that are geographically isolated. The geese of Tasmania are smaller than those found on Kangaroo Island, while those found on the Furneaux Islands are larger and distinctively marked.

Related Species

Cape Barren Geese have no close relatives, but they are sometimes classified within the subfamily of shelducks. However, their distinctive morphology and behavior suggest that they are unique and not closely related to any other species.

Historical Changes to Distribution

Cape Barren Geese have an interesting history of distribution changes. Fossil evidence of Cape Barren Geese has been found in New Zealand’s South Island, suggesting they may have once been distributed more widely.

However, current evidence suggests that they have remained largely confined to their current habitat for thousands of years. The arrival of European settlers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries brought significant changes to the distribution and population of Cape Barren Geese.

The geese were hunted for food, and their eggs were collected for consumption, leading to a drastic decline in numbers. By the mid-20th century, the population of Cape Barren Geese had dropped to only a few hundred birds.

However, conservation efforts, including habitat preservation and predator control measures, have led to the significant recovery of the population in recent decades. Today, Cape Barren Geese are found in several protected areas, including the Coorong National Park in South Australia and the Furneaux Group of Islands in Tasmania.

They remain vulnerable to habitat loss and introduced predators such as foxes, feral cats, and rats.


The Cape Barren Goose’s systematics history, geographic variation, subspecies, and related species provide insight into this unique bird species’ evolution. The historical changes to its distribution reveal the impact of human activities on wildlife populations and the vital role of conservation efforts in preserving endangered species.

Though they still face challenges, monitoring and protection measures are helping ensure the continued survival and recovery of this fascinating bird species.


Cape Barren Geese are herbivorous and live on a diet of grass, leaves, and seeds, which they forage mainly on the ground. They prefer open grassy habitats, including coastal heathlands, grasslands, and farmland.

Shrubs and trees are also important to provide cover and nesting sites. In Australia, Cape Barren Geese are found on the coastal regions of south-eastern Australia, including Tasmania, Kangaroo Island, and several offshore islands.

They also inhabit the Furneaux Group of islands in Bass Strait. A significant factor influencing their habitat is the availability of freshwater sources.

Cape Barren Geese require a freshwater pool or stream for drinking and bathing, and in the absence of these, they may not inhabit some suitable habitats.

Movements and Migration

Unlike most other Anatidae species, Cape Barren Geese are non-migratory and tend to remain in their home range throughout the year. However, some birds may disperse outside of their usual range for extended periods in search of food and water.

During drought periods, some individuals can move considerable distances to find water and suitable foraging areas, such as wetlands or pastures. These movements are likely influenced by the availability of food sources and local conditions.

In some cases, this may result in an expansion of their range, leading to new populations in previously uninhabited areas, although this is rare. Cape Barren Geese are monogamous and form lifelong pairs, breeding in the same area year after year.

They defend a nesting territory of up to 2 km and build their nests on the ground or in shrubs and trees, typically near a freshwater source. The breeding season begins in September and lasts through to January.

During this time, the pairs construct a nest of a bowl shape made of vegetation and feathers. The female incubates the eggs while the male guards the nest and the surrounding area.

The gestation period lasts about 36 days, and the young hatch from the eggs in October to February. Once the eggs hatch, both parents care for the goslings for several months until they are able to fend for themselves.

During this time, they are vulnerable to predation by animals such as foxes and eagles, which is one of the main reasons why Cape Barren Geese favor habitats that offer ample cover and protection. In conclusion, Cape Barren Geese are a fascinating species that values fresh water sources and grassy vegetation in establishing their preferred habitat.

They are non-migratory, but some birds may undertake short-distance movements in search of food and water. As lifelong partners, they form strong bonds and return to the same nesting area year after year.

Their preference for grassy habitats is an essential factor in their ability to survive and reproduce, and conservation efforts should prioritize habitat preservation to ensure the continued existence of this unique species.

Diet and Foraging

Cape Barren Geese are primarily herbivorous and consume a wide variety of plant material, including grasses, sedges, and herbs, along with seeds, flowers, and shoots. Their specialized beak enables them to graze on a wide variety of plant species and also allows them to dig up tubers and rhizomes.

Their diet may also include aquatic vegetation and algae.


When foraging, Cape Barren Geese exhibit a grazing behavior, and they commonly group together in flocks while feeding. They use their long necks and bills to reach the ground and pull up shoots and grasses, often feeding while walking.

In addition, these geese also consume leaves and stems of shrubs.


The geese consume various plant products such as fruits, leaves, and stems. During the breeding season, their diet incorporates a higher proportion of herbaceous plants in comparison to fruits.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Cape Barren Geese are adapted to their cold environment by possessing feathers that provide insulation against the cold, thus enabling them to maintain a constant body temperature. They are endothermic animals, meaning that they generate their body heat metabolically.

During breeding seasons, the geese exhibit high metabolism, investing energy in their offspring.

Sounds and Vocal


Cape Barren Geese are known to have a wide range of sounds. They have a chattering call that is made up of short rapid sounds and is used when communicating among themselves while flocking.

They also use a shrill, high-pitched whistle, which is often heard as an alarm call signaling the presence of predators in the area. The vocalizations of Cape Barren Geese is an essential factor in communication among individuals and the flock, and several different sounds can indicate various contexts and moods.

For example, a gentle warbling or cooing sound is used during the courtship and mating season. In contrast, hissing is used to signal dominance during territorial disputes.


The vocalization of Cape Barren Geese does almost all signaling and communication between members of the flock. Their calls also communicate information about predators, food sources, and other environmental cues.

The chattering call is used primarily in flight, forming large groups as flocks while migrating or moving over relatively long distances. During the breeding season, males give a male call that signals their presence in the flock.

Females respond with a greeting warble, leading to pair formation, a lifelong bond, and regular courtship calls. Over the breeding season, male calls change from a male call to a grubbling call, which is used when force-feeding goslings.

In conclusion, the vocalization and communication of Cape Barren Geese are critical not only for the establishment of dominance and signaling of potential danger but also for the social bonding activities such as mating, nesting, and rearing of its young. The broad range of calls and vocalizations that used for communication facilitates their social interaction, allowing them to grow and thrive as both individuals and a species.

Similarly, their dietary habits are essential adaptions that have shaped their survival to maintain a constant body temperature and remain resolved to harsh weather conditions.


Cape Barren Geese exhibit a range of behaviors, including locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, and sexual behavior. These behaviors are essential for their survival, reproduction and help to establish their social structure.


Cape Barren Geese are large and heavy birds, and they are not very agile in the air, but their powerful legs and feet allow them to walk and run efficiently on the ground. They are capable of running to avoid predators and have strong, muscular wings that enable them to fly short distances in emergencies.

Self Maintenance

Self-maintenance behavior is essential for an animal’s health and survival. Cape Barren Geese preen their feathers to remove dirt, parasites and keep their feathers in excellent condition, insulating them against the cold air.

They also bathe in water to clean their feathers and maintain body temperature. Agonistic


Agonistic behavior refers to the aggressive behavior exhibited by individuals to establish dominance and minimize intraspecific competition.

Agonistic behavior is prevalent among the male geese, and it arises mostly during the breeding season. The male geese establish territories and defend them from intruders using various aggressive behaviors.



Cape Barren Geese are monogamous birds that form a lifelong pair bond, and they exhibit specific sexual behaviors during the courtship, breeding, and incubation periods. During courtship, the male bow their head and shake it to signal to the female, and after that, they cock their tails and make a gentle warbling call.


Cape Barren Geese breed annually, and their breeding behaviors are essential for the continuation of the species. During the breeding season, the male bird defends a territory and seeks a mate.

The pair constructs a nest made of grass and other plant materials near a freshwater source, and the female lays two to five pale green eggs. The incubation period lasts for approximately 35 to 40 days, and the male and female take turns sitting on the eggs while the other partner guards the nest.

After hatching, both parents care for the goslings, who leave the nest within a day and venture out with their parents to find food.

Demography and Populations

Cape Barren Geese are considered a rare and vulnerable species, with an estimated global population size of 5,000-6,000 individuals. The species numbers have increased in recent years due to successful conservation efforts.

The survival and growth of their population depend on several factors, including habitat quality, availability, and distribution of food sources, predation, and human activities such as habitat destruction and hunting. In conclusion, the behavior of Cape Barren Geese is diverse and complex, with each behavior essential for their survival, reproduction, and maintaining social structures.

Their breeding behaviors are crucial for the continuation of their species, and demographic studies can provide essential insights into their population growth and threats to their survival. Given their vulnerable status, conservation efforts that aim to preserve their habitat, protect them from predation, and minimize human disturbances are essential for ensuring the survival of this unique species.

The Cape Barren Goose is a fascinating bird species that is endemic to Australia and is recognized for its unique morphology, adaptive behavior, and vocal communication. The expansion on various topics in this article provides insights into their diet, foraging, and locomotion, with information on their behavior, sexual life, and breeding.

Demographic studies present information on their population size and how a species, although rare, can increase through careful conservation efforts. These studies emphasize conservation’s significance as a fundamental process that ensures their existence and preservation for future generations.

The knowledge gained about Cape Barren Goose allows an appreciation of their ecological and social roles, the risks they face, and the importance of protection.

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