Magpie Goose – white and black emblem of Northern Australia
Magpie Goose loves Northern Australia.
As a wildlife enthusiast and bird lover, I’ve long been intrigued by this unique and beautiful species, which is found only in Australia’s Top End. Evert time I visit Northern Territory, I’m seeking out opportunities to observe and learn more about the Magpie Goose.
The Northern Territory is a vast and diverse region in the northern part of Australia, known for its dramatic landscapes, ancient cultural heritage, and rich biodiversity. It’s also the place where the Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata) can be found.
Magpie Geese are waterbirds that inhabit wetlands, swamps, and floodplains throughout the Top End of the Northern Territory, which encompasses the regions of Darwin, Kakadu, Arnhem Land, and Katherine.
These areas are home to a wide range of habitats, from coastal mudflats and mangrove forests to monsoonal savannas and freshwater billabongs, which provide ideal conditions for Magpie Geese to feed, breed, and roost.
Kakadu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most famous destinations for Magpie Goose sightings in the Northern Territory. This vast park covers an area of almost 20,000 square kilometers and includes a diverse range of habitats, from floodplains and wetlands to sandstone cliffs and rocky gorges.
Visitors to Kakadu can explore the park’s many walking trails, take boat tours to spot wildlife, and learn about the cultural significance of the area to local Indigenous communities.
Arnhem Land, located in the northeast corner of the Northern Territory, is another prime location for Magpie Goose sightings. This remote and rugged region is home to some of Australia’s most pristine wilderness areas, including Kakadu’s neighbouring Booderee National Park and the Cobourg Peninsula.
Visitors to Arnhem Land can experience the unique cultural traditions of the local Indigenous communities, including art, music, and dance, while also enjoying the natural beauty of the region.
The Magpie Goose has distinctive and striking plumage that makes it easily recognizable in the wild. The bird’s body is predominantly black and white, with a long, slender neck and a small head.
The back, wings, and tail feathers are black, while the breast and underparts are white. The wings also feature large white patches that are visible in flight. It is a big bird about 70–90 cm in size.
One of the most notable features of the Magpie Goose’s plumage is its bare, featherless head and neck. The skin on the head and neck is dark grey and wrinkled, giving the bird a somewhat prehistoric appearance. The bill is also a distinctive feature, being relatively long and slender with a bright yellow tip.
During the breeding season, male and female Magpie Geese have similar plumage, making them difficult to tell apart. However, males tend to be slightly larger and more robust than females and may have a large knob on the top of their head making them easily identifiable from females.
Pairs of Magpie geese mate for life. Large, noisy flocks of up to a few thousand birds congregate to feed on wetland vegetation.
The Magpie Goose has a deep cultural significance to the Indigenous communities of the Northern Territory, who have lived in harmony with the land and its wildlife for thousands of years. The bird has played an important role in Indigenous culture, both as a source of food and as a spiritual symbol.
Traditionally, Magpie Geese were an important source of food for Indigenous people, who hunted them for their meat and eggs. The geese were often caught using traditional methods such as nets, spears, and traps, and their meat was considered a delicacy.
Today, the hunting of Magpie Geese is still an important cultural practice for some Indigenous communities, who continue to use traditional methods to sustainably harvest the birds.
In addition to their practical uses, Magpie Geese also have deep spiritual and cultural significance to Indigenous communities.
They feature prominently in Dreamtime stories and creation myths, where they are often associated with water, rain, and the cycle of life. In some stories, the Magpie Goose is depicted as a messenger between the living and the spirit world, carrying important messages between the two realms.
The Magpie Goose is also an important symbol of cultural identity for many Indigenous people, representing a connection to their ancestral lands, traditions, and values. The bird is often featured in Indigenous art, music, and dance, where it is used to convey spiritual and cultural messages.
Best time to see Magpie Goose
The best time to see Magpie Geese in the Northern Territory is during the dry season, which runs from May to October. During this time, the birds are concentrated in the wetlands and billabongs of the Top End, where they gather in large flocks to breed and feed.
The early dry season, from May to July, is a particularly good time to see Magpie Geese, as this is when they begin breeding and nesting. During this time, the birds can be seen in pairs or small groups, building nests and tending to their young.
As the dry season progresses, the number of Magpie Geese in the wetlands increases, with flocks of several hundred birds often seen congregating around the water’s edge.
Towards the end of the dry season, from August to October, the Magpie Geese start to move around more as they search for new feeding grounds. They may be seen flying overhead in large V-shaped formations or feeding on the edges of billabongs and wetlands.
It’s really worth visiting Northern Territory in the late dry season to see large flocks of magpie geese crowd the remaining billabongs.
We have seen hundreds of them congregate on Kakadu floodplains or Fog Dam just before.
As they leave the floodplains to roost for the night, the air becomes thick with honking geese flying in lines across the red-setting sun.
Where spotted: Kakadu National Park NT, St Lawrence QLD
Funny story. Collingwood football club is called Magpies – some say the name is taken from the Melbourne municipality of Collingwood in 1892 – an area that has been described as ‘pre-ordained to be a slum’Wikipedia
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