AMS405/55 Cape Barren Goose Click to enlarge image
Scanned in 2005 for the Birds in the Backyard website Image: Jack Purnell
© Australian Museum

Fast Facts

  • Australian Federal Conservation Status
    NSW Conservation Status
    Vulnerable species
  • Classification
  • Size Range
    75 cm to 100 cm

The Cape Barren Goose is able to drink salty or brackish water, allowing many of them to remain on offshore islands all year round.


The Cape Barren Goose is a very large, pale grey goose with a relatively small head. Its stubby triangular bill is almost concealed by a very prominent greenish-yellow cere (skin above the bill). It has rows of large dark spots in lines across the scapulars (shoulders) and wing coverts. The legs are pink to deep red and the feet black. In flight it shows dark wingtips and along the trailing edge of the wings.


The Cape Barren Goose is found on offshore islands, usually granite, in areas of pasture, tussock grass or low heathy scrub.


The Cape Barren Goose is found on the south-eastern coast of Australia, the southern coast of Western Australia and in south-eastern Victoria. It is locally dispersive and has been introduced to Kangaroo Island.


During the summer, the non-breeding geese generally leave the islands for the mainland where they feed on improved pasture.

Feeding and diet

The Cape Barren Goose is a grazing bird, eating predominantly the common island tussock grass, Poa poiformis, as well as spear grass and various herbs and succulents. They also eat pasture grasses, including barley and clover, and legumes.


On the ground usually quiet unless alarmed or in display. In flight more vocal, male has higher pitched, harsh trumpeted 'ark, ark-ark'.

Breeding behaviours

The Cape Barren Goose lays eggs in a nest in the tussocks of open grasslands. The nest is built by the male and lined with down. Each pair establishes a territory in autumn, prepares a nest and defends it noisily and determinedly against other geese. This species is monogamous, and pair-bonds are life-long. The female incubates the eggs, and the young are brooded by both parents equally.

  • Breeding season: July to September.
  • Clutch size: Four to six.
  • Incubation: 35 days

Conservation status

By the 1950s, numbers of the Cape Barren Goose were so low that biologists feared they may be close to extinction. Various initiatives have been taken which have increased the goose population to a level where they are no longer considered to be in danger. However they remain one of the world's rarest geese.


  • Marchant, S. and Higgins, P.J. (eds.), 1990. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Vol. 1. Part B. Oxford University Press: Melbourne.
  • Simpson, K and Day, N. 1999. Field guide to the birds of Australia, 6th Edition.Penguin Books, Australia.