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Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements

Attribute Males Females
Weight 1838–3195 g (~4.1–7.0 lb)

1405-2770 g (~3.1–6.1 lb)

Head-body length 75–92 cm (30–36 in) 71–81 cm (28–32 in)
Wingspan 129–180 cm (50.8–70.9 in) 125–165 cm (49.2–65.0 in)


Data sources: Frith (1967), Carboneras and Kirwan (2017)

Note: Range for female wingspan slightly wider in Carboneras and Kirwan (2017) than Frith (1967).

General Appearance


  • Fairly large-bodied (Delacour 1954)

Plumage (coloration)

  • Adult
    • Black and white (Frith and Davies 1961)
      • White mantle, rump, and underparts (Delacour 1954)
  • Juvenile
    • More gray and mottled than adult (Carboneras and Kirwan 2017)


  • Long and broad (Delacour 1954)

Head and neck

  • Head protuberance of spongy bone (see image, right) (Whitehead 1998a)
    • Varies in size (Carboneras and Kirwan 2017)
  • Bare skin between bill and eyes (Johnsgard 1961)
    • Coloration
      • Pink with irregular black speckles
  • Bill
    • Hooked and robust (Frith 1967)
      • Adapted for digging corms (tuber-like storage organ in Eleocharis dulcis) out of soft mud and hard, semi-dried ground
    • Coloration (Delacour 1954)
      • Deep yellow
      • Gray tip
    • Texture
      • Has bumps; “pebbled” (Todd 1979)
  • Neck
    • Long (Delacour 1954)
  • Eye
    • Iris
      • Dark brown (Delacour 1954)
  • Also see Trachea (windpipe)

Legs and feet

  • Legs
    • Length
      • Long (Delacour 1954)
    • Coloration
      • Yellow-orange (Carboneras and Kirwan 2017)
  • Feet
    • Characteristics
      • Partially webbed (Johnsgard 1961)
        • Webbing not well-developed, as in ducks, geese, and swans (Anatidae), and Whistling Ducks
          • A few geese also have reduced webbing
      • Long hind toe (Johnsgard 1961)
        • Unusual for waterfowl (Todd 1979)
    • Adaptive functions (Frith 1967)
      • Walking
        • On ground and over marsh vegetation
      • Perching
      • Nest building
    • Not adapted for swimming (Frith 1967)
  • Claws
    • Strong (Frith and Davies 1961)


  • Large (Delacour 1954)

Sexual Dimorphism

Body mass

  • Males about 30% heavier than females (Whitehead 1998a)

Plumage (coloration)

  • No difference between sexes (Frith and Davies 1961; Whitehead 1998a)

Head protuberance

  • Present in both sexes (Whitehead 1998a; Carboneras and Kirwan 2017)
    • Larger in adult male
      • May be a visual signal used during male-male competition or by females for mate choice

Trachea (windpipe)

  • Structure is elongated and folded in males only (Frith and Davies 1961; Whitehead 1998a, except as noted)
    • Produces louder, deeper calls (Fitch 1999)
    • Length in adult male
      • About 127 cm (50 in) (Johnsgard 1961)
        • Maximum length: about 150 cm (59 in) (Johnsgard 1965)
    • Development
      • Male voice deepens after about eight months of age (Johnsgard 1961)
      • Elongation complete by two years of age
  • Specific functions not well-understood (Fitch 1999)
    • Possible functions
      • Defense of territory
      • Group communication
      • Mate choice
      • Male-male contests
  • Comparison to other birds
    • Elongated tracheas present in at least six avian orders and 60 species (Fitch 1999)
    • Some swans (e.g., Trumpeter Swan), cranes, and the Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) also have long, looped windpipes (Frith 1967; Gaunt et al. 1987; Fitch 1999)


Distinctive appearance

  • Magpie Goose not confused for any other Australian bird (Frith 1967; Marchant and Higgins 1990)
    • From a far distance, recognizable by its slow flapping motion
  • Differences of similar Australian birds
    • Straw-necked Ibis
      • Flaps wings more rapidly than Magpie Goose
      • Smaller than Magpie Goose
      • Long, decurved bill
    • Black swan
      • Flaps wings more slowly than Magpie Goose
      • Long neck
      • Body entirely black
      • Flight feathers white
        • Magpie Goose has black flight feathers

Other Physical and Physiological Characteristics


Oil produced for preening

  • Differs from that of other waterfowl (Edkins and Hansen 1972)
    • Composition
      • Squalene
      • Wax esters
      • Ducks, geese, and swans (Anserinae) produce fatty acids
    • Structure
      • Straight-chained
      • Multiple branches in ducks, geese, and swans

Magpie Goose

Head and bill of a Magpie Goose

The characteristic head protuberance and robust bill of the Magpie Goose.

Magpie Geese use their bill to dig for food in mud and dry, hard ground.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

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