Dinosaur heads and citrus armpits? Welcome to the strange world of the magpie goose. Phoebe Vaughan tells us more…
Magpie geese might just be the closest to a dinosaur you can get in the bird world. These incredible birds not only look very different but have unique breeding and survival tactics. They even smell totally unlike all other wildfowl!
These wonderful little goslings have been hatched out behind the scenes. They’re part of a group of species destined for display in our Slimbridge 2020 project. When they hatch, their incredible long toes and big blunt beaks already make them look borderline prehistoric – and then they vocalise! They hiss and squawk at each other, and engage in play-fighting to establish the pecking order early on in their lives.
Right now, they are an adorable sandy-pink, but will soon dull down to their grey pre-plumage colour as their first feathers push through. Our new training consultant will be giving them positive re-enforcement so that they fully enjoy and explore their environment. In the meantime, we wanted you to see them at their very cutest.
In the next few months, they’ll begin to feather and waterproof themselves and will start to smell as only a magpie goose can – ‘citrus armpit’ is the closest description! Because their beaks aren’t very well suited to preening, magpie geese have almost industrial-strength preening oil with which to stay waterproof in torrential Australian downpours… Sometimes you can see a lemon-yellow staining on their white feathers when they have been applying it particularly copiously!
As adults, they will form large breeding groups of four or five, with one dominant male. It’s his job to protect his females from other magpie geese, as well as Australian wetland predators such as crocodiles. Many of the females will breed together and share the resulting family out among them, so they have maximum protection and enough eyes scouting for danger. This strategy makes it very tough to rear young magpies: although these guys are bonded through their life-experience, it now makes them a defined team, and it’s in their nature not to accept any other competition!
Despite first impressions, Magpie geese are really very charming, and aviculturists have long been fascinated by them. Hopefully we can convince you, our visitors, to love them too!