Kelp goose (Chloephaga hybrida)

GenusChloephaga (1)
SizeLength: 52 – 65 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Commonly found in pairs (3), the contrast between the bright white plumage of the adult male and the dark, striped plumage of the female kelp goose presents a striking image (2). The male is almost entirely white, with the exception of the bill, which is black, and the legs and feet, which are orange. The female has more elaborate colouration, with chocolate-brown upperparts, head and neck, while the belly is boldly striped blackish-brown and white. The rump, tail feathers and underwing are also white, with the exception of the black primary feathers visible at the wing tips. The female’s bill is pink, the legs are orange, and there is a thin white ring around the eye. While both male and female juveniles resemble the adult female, the male acquires white plumage on the head, neck and upperparts in the first winter, becoming almost completely white by the second. Along with the contrasting appearances, both sexes produce different vocalisations, with the male kelp goose giving a repeated whistle, and the female, a harsh growl (2).

There are two subspecies of kelp goose, the lesser kelp goose, Chloephaga hybrida hybrida, and the greater kelp goose, Chloephaga hybrida malvinarum, which can be distinguished by size and location (2)

The breeding range of the lesser kelp goose, Chloephaga hybrida hybrida, extends from southern Chile, through Tierra del Fuego to the extreme south of Argentina, with populations at the most southerly regions migrating northwards slightly beyond the northern limits of the breeding range in the winter. The greater kelp goose, Chloephaga hybrida malvinarum, is restricted to the Falkland Islands, where it remains resident throughout the year (2).

The kelp goose occupies seaweed-strewn, rocky or shingle coasts, often nearby freshwater, coastal lagoons (2) (3)

The kelp goose is most commonly encountered foraging along the seashore for green seaweed (mainly of the genus Ulva), which forms the bulk of its diet (2) (4).

Egg-laying takes place between late October and early November, with the female kelp goose laying a clutch of four to seven eggs in a nest made of grass and lined with breast feathers, concealed behind the beach amongst tall grass or shrubs (2) (4). During the month-long incubation period, the male stands guard over the female. Once hatched, the chicks are led from the nest, and must find their own food while remaining under the protection of the parent birds. Fledging takes place in February and the young birds become fully independent, but do not reach sexual maturity until two years old (4)

There are currently no significant threats to the kelp goose, and the population is large and stable (1) (2). The only potential risk for this species is a major oil spillage in adjacent seas (2).

With a large and healthy population, specific conservation action is not required for the kelp goose (1). Nevertheless, conservation organisations within this species’ range are working to preserve biodiversity, thereby ensuring that the kelp goose remains abundant (5) (6).

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)