Journal of Zoology

Nesting phenology of magpie geese (Anseranas semipalmata) in monsoonal northern Australia: responses to antecedent rainfall

Peter J. Whitehead a1c1 and Keith Saalfeld a2
a1 Key Centre for Tropical Wildlife Management, Northern Territory University, Darwin NT 0909, Australia
a2 Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, P.O. Box 496, Palmerston NT 0831, Australia


The density of nests of the magpie goose Anseranas semipalmata on the Mary River floodplain fluctuated markedly during 1988–93, failing almost completely in unfavourable (El Niño) years. Nest density and timing of nesting were strongly correlated with variations in the time of onset of the wet season, but were much less sensitive to rainfall quanta in the mid- to late wet season. Nest densities were higher and nesting was initiated earlier in breeding seasons preceded by sustained rainfalls during the transition from dry to wet seasons. Clutch sizes were slightly larger in years of early wet-season onset. Within seasons, later clutches contained fewer eggs and the eggs were smaller, probably as a consequence of later nesting by younger birds. Second clutches from a small sample of marked re-nesting birds and a pulse of nesting after flooding losses, contained similar numbers of eggs to first clutches, but the eggs were larger. Dependence of nesting on events occurring months before clutch initiation, when birds are using habitats distant from nesting colonies, illustrates the importance of integrated management of floodplain systems to meet year-round habitat needs, and the risks posed by homogenization of wetlands by improvement of pasture for grazing.

(Accepted September 15 1999)

Key Words: rainfall patterns; nest density; timing of nesting; clutch and egg size; inter-annual variation; floodplains; Anseranas semipalmata.

c1 All correspondence to: P. J. Whitehead. E-mail: