(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone; won’t paragraph properly)
The Egyptian goose, or Alopochen aegyptiacus, can be found in most of Africa, except in deserts or in dense forests. Locations include inland areas from just to the south of the Sahara Desert to the very southern part of Africa, and in the Nile Valley. A few have been seen in the eastern and southern coastal areas of the Mediterranean. They were sacred to the ancient Egyptians who domesticated them and included them in artwork of this period. They were also kept by the ancient Romans and Greeks.
It lives in most wetland areas, such as rivers, marshes and lakes. They favor wetlands in open areas rather than in densely wooded spots where they have less chance of seeing predators. They are good swimmers and divers. When flying, they look heavy, like a goose rather than a duck. Egyptian geese spend most of their time on land. A bird will perch and roost in trees, and often returns to the same place every night. They live at various altitudes, with individuals in Ethiopia found at heights of up to 13,000 feet.
The birds nest in various places, including on the ground in dense vegetation, in burrows, in holes or cavities in trees or in crowns of trees, along river banks, on cliff ledges, and on buildings. They are happy to use nests abandoned by other birds. These birds make their nests of plant matter and line them with down feathers. Nests are usually close to water.
The Egyptian goose is slightly larger than a duck. It is about 24-28 inches in length and has a wingspan of 54 to 60 inches. We don’t know how long they live in the wild but one lived in captivity for 14 years. Life span in the wild is usually longer than in captivity. They live in small flocks and only pair up in the breeding season. The birds are largely sedentary, but will venture outside their territory in drought periods to seek water. They reach maturity by two years of age.
Males and females have the same plumage. The male is slightly larger. Their color can vary significantly between individuals. Some are grey and brown, whereas others are red and brown. Variations in color are not due to age or sex. They have yellow eyes with a brown patch around each one. The shorter feathers of the wings are white and the longer ones are iridescent green. Their tails are black, and they have a pink bill, legs and feet.
They are best distinguished by their sound. The Egyptian goose is not naturally vocal, but when stressed or being aggressive, the male hisses whereas the female cackles loudly, making a “honk-haah-haah-haah” sound. This happens most often during nesting when they vigorously defend their territory.
The courtship displayed by the male to attract a female is elaborate and noisy. A pair will usually stay together for life. They breed in spring, when the wet season is underway. They have a clutch of about five to ten eggs that are yellowish white in color. After they lay their eggs, the birds almost seem to disappear, and are next seen escorting their young to the water. The eggs hatch after 28 to 30 days. Chicks have duller coloring than the adults and have similar markings to the shelduck. They lack their parents’ brown patches around each eye and on the chest. They can fly after about 70 days. If the nest is in a tree, the parents will coax the young to jump, it basically being the only way down. This will be their first “flying” experience.
Egyptian geese are territorial and noisy, and will engage in fierce battles to defend their plots. Combatants meet breast to breast on water or on land and will try to grab each other’s back near the neck. At the same time, they will madly flap their wings and sometimes even strike their opponent with their feet. They can be intolerant of their own species and other birds and can be one of the most vicious waterfowl.
This species feeds on vegetation matter such as grasses, leaves, plant stems, and seeds. They will also eat small animals such as worms, locusts and others insects. The birds spend more time grazing than on the water and can be seen in pairs or in small groups in the savanna areas, but will also feed in shallow water. They sometime travel a long way from water. In the dry, the often find cultivated areas to graze.
They were introduced into Great Britain in the 18th century as an ornamental waterfowl. Colonies were established in the 19th century in East Anglia on large estates with lakes. The birds have not spread to other areas, despite their ability to disperse. Over 90 per cent of Britain’s estimated 900 Egyptian geese can be found in this area. It was also brought into the Netherlands. In England, mortality among the young is high with only one or two of a clutch surviving crow attacks and competition from the Canada goose and grey-lag goose.
The Egyptian goose is the only member of the Alopochen genus, after three other species became extinct in earlier times. These were the Mauritian shelduck last seen in Mauritius in the late 1690s, the Malagasy shelduck which existed in Madagascar in prehistoric times, and the Reunion shelduck or Kervazo’s Egyptian goose last spotted in Reunion around the 1690s.
They are not regarded as an endangered species, being quite numerous and widely distributed throughout much of Africa. Their numbers increased in South Africa during the 20th century largely due to additional dams and irrigation projects. Farmers sometimes hunt them as large grazing flocks can destroy crops. Logging and the expansion of agriculture and urban areas can also pose a potential threat to these birds.