Magpie Goose in flight, Wirra-lo Wetlands

The return of Magpie Geese to Victorian wetlands

By Damien Cook and Elaine Bayes, Wetland Revival Trust, April 2023

It’s a sign that anything is possible when you see a bird species that was locally extinct flocking in great numbers at your local wetland.  In a time of doom and gloom about Australia’s great contribution to species loss, the large and magnificent Magpie Goose is flourishing for the first time in 120 years in many wetlands throughout northern Victoria and in other parts of the state. 

Wetland Revival Trust is particularly excited as large numbers are not only thriving at two of the swamps they have been involved in restoring; McDonalds Swamp and Wirra-lo Wetland, but they are breeding there!  A tick of approval from the birds for these ecological restoration efforts. 

Magpie Goose in dead tree, Wirra-lo Wetlands- cropped
Magpie Goose in flight, Wirra-lo Wetlands

Photographs 1 and 2 The Magpie Goose (Anseranus semipalmata) is a large, unmistakable bird with black and white plumage and slightly webbed feet. It is the sole living representative species of the family Anseranatidae. These birds were photographed at Wirra-lo Wetlands in December 2022. 

When Europeans first arrived in Victoria the Magpie Goose was common in wetlands throughout the state and was popular as a source of meat for both First Nations peoples and the new arrivals; it was sold as wild game at the South Melbourne Market for 12 shillings a pair in the 1860’s. However, by the early 1900’s they were off the menu.  Draining of wetlands and over-hunting had caused their local extinction across southern Australia.

To reintroduce Magpie Geese the Victorian Government began a breeding program using birds brought down from the Northern Territory in the 1960’s. Birds were released into Serendip Wildlife Reserve near Geelong in 1964 and Tower Hill, west of Warrnambool, in 1974 and to Bool Lagoon in South Australia in the late 1960’s. These re-introduced populations slowly increased in number and began to disperse and by the 1980’s Magpie Geese were being recorded sporadically across southwestern Victoria, usually in flocks of up to 50 birds. 

Magpie Geese, McDonald Swamp
Magpie Geese, McDonald Swamp

A smaller flock of Magpie Geese arrived at Wirra-lo Wetlands during the peak of the flood in November 2022 and bred in an area of dense Tangled Lignum. The size of this flock also peaked in February 2023 at 20 birds, which included 7 unfledged young. These birds seem to have settled in at Wirra-lo and are still present there.

Magpie Geese, 2 adults and 4 young, Wirra-lo Wetlands
Magpie Geese, 2 adults and 4 young, Wirra-lo Wetlands

Small flocks of Magpie Geese have even been observed in the suburbs of Melbourne, showing up for the first time in a restored wetland habitat in Brighton in early March 2023. 

The return of the Magpie Geese is not just a victory for this species, but for the entire wetland ecosystems they occur in. Wetlands are critical habitats that provide important ecological and economic benefits, including regulating water flow and quality, reducing the severity of flooding, and providing habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals. 

Hear Damien, Director at Wetland Revival Trust, talking to Johnathon Kendall on Mornings on ABC Radio Victoria about the return of Magpie Geese to Northern Victoria earlier this week.

Hear Damien, Director at Wetland Revival Trust, talking to Johnathon Kendall on Mornings on ABC Radio Victoria about the return of Magpie Geese to Northern Victoria:

The purchase of Wirra-lo for conservation was supported by the Victorian Government through the Nature Fund, along with generous donations from the Purryburry Trust, The Whittingham’s, the Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association (IFFA), the Capricorn Foundation, hundreds of generous supporters, and former owners Ken and Jill Hooper.

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