Hosteria Pehoe

Bird Bios: Patagonia's Kelp Goose

Hosteria Pehoe

At first glance, it appears that the entire population of Kelp geese is male...but wait, on closer inspection of the rocky shorelines of Patagonia, there is a female kelp goose accompanying every male. The reason for this first glance discrepancy is the sexual dimorphism between males and females of this species. Males are brilliant white, standing out on the black shoreline, while females are brown and aptly camouflaged in the vicinity of a male. What are most apparent on the hen are her yellow legs and feet and white tail.

kelp goose - claudio vidal

Kelp geese are very appropriately named as their diet is largely comprised of kelp, which is a form of algae that grows prevalently in tidal zones of Patagonia. During high tide, much of the rocky shoreline is under water and it is at that time that Kelp Geese roost or just relax until the ebbing tide once again exposes food for the geese. Kelp geese nest in fairly close proximity to the ocean and the young of kelp geese as well as all forms of waterfowl are extremely precocial. That is upon hatching, they are able to walk, run (waddle fast) swim and they feed themselves as well. The young, numbering as many as seven goslings follow the parents to the edge of the sea where they amble over rocks, mimicking the adults in feeding on algae. Large rocks can be quite an obstacle for tiny goslings but the birds have very sharp toenails and they can climb rocks quite well. This is a necessity for a bird that needs to survive at the shoreline. The young goslings, however, are extremely vulnerable to the risks of being small. Predation by skuas is a common occurrence and not many of the goslings survive through their first couple of months post hatching. Skuas are a brown colored bird, similar in shape to a large sea gull, but their wings are quite pointed and they are extremely agile flyers. Skuas will take eggs and young birds and they are one of the most feared bird species in the Patagonia region.

After the nesting season, Kelp geese form loose flocks and it is during this time that flocks of around 20 kelp geese can be seen in one area where they feed very amiably during low tide. I take great pleasure in observing these lovely geese and on Patagonia tours through the Straits of Magellan I have seen many hundreds of these geese…lots of white ones and upon close inspection, just as many brown ones.

Photo © Claudio Vidal

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.