Among the swelling signs of spring is the increasingly noticeable and highly vocal activity of Egyptian geese passing through our neighbourhood. The raucous calling of pairs in flight – or even when they alight on the roof of our or a neighbour’s roof – enlivens especially the early mornings and sometimes also the late afternoons.
Typically, Egyptian geese roost in the same site every night, leaving for foraging trips in the early morning and foraging again in the late afternoon. In our area we only notice Egyptian geese activity from about August so they must spend their winters elsewhere.
One morning earlier this week a pair of Egyptian geese spent time on our roof, sometimes calling noisily. Egyptian geese are monogamous and pairs stay together for their whole lives
In southern Africa Egyptian geese may be nomadic and disperse quite considerable distances, often in response to water availability particularly in the drier regions. They occur in the vicinity of largish bodies of water such as lakes, dams, rivers, marshes, pans and estuaries. At the coast, they may swim in harbours or in the sea and they may sometimes forage along the shoreline.
Egyptian geese roost and nest in or near wetlands where they also feed, in addition to flying off to grasslands, flood plains or crop fields for their twice-daily foraging sessions. They mostly eat grass, leaves, seeds, grain, crop seedlings and aquatic rhizomes and tubers. Unfortunately where numbers are high Egyptian geese are regarded as pests by grain farmers and consequently they face being shot or poisoned.
Egyptian geese are known to be gregarious outside of the breeding season, congregating in flocks – although pairs remain together keeping their distance from other geese. Egyptian geese also migrate to and congregate at specific wetlands seasonally when moulting their wing feathers. They remain flightless for about five weeks as their flight feathers regrow.
Walk like an Egyptian
I had assumed that the resumption of noisy activity by Egyptian geese in our neighbourhood was linked to breeding activity. Although Egyptian geese may breed throughout the year with breeding periods varying depending on the region, in KwaZulu-Natal peak breeding times are July to October, which corresponds with the more vocal activities commencing in the spring that we notice where we are.
When a pair takes off to fly, both birds honk and then they may proceed to call in duet when in flight, with the female making a more honking call and the male a more rasping call. Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa suggests that this calling in flight may be agonistic, that is combative, and it certainly sounds so! When they feel threatened both birds may hiss in response.
Sound recordings of the calls of Egyptian geese can be heard at xeno-canto, which also has a distribution map. Egyptian geese occur over most of sub-Saharan Africa and in the Nile valley. They have been introduced into the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, such as the Netherlands, where feral populations exist.
A female Egyptian goose, honking while looking in the direction of her mate who was concealed from my view on the other side of the roof
Although I could hear him calling, I only realised the second goose was nearby on the other side of the roof when his head and an outspread wing suddenly popped up into view
In or near wetlands, Egyptian geese make nests on the ground where the nest is little more than a small hollow or scrape lined with grass and down. But breeding pairs may also nest in hollows in trees, cliffs, caves or buildings. They may also take over nests of crows, hamerkops or raptors, such as black sparrowhawks. Unfortunately, they don’t only use vacated nests but may aggressively chase off nesting birds when wanting to take over their nest.
(For more about black sparrowhawks and interactions with Egyptian geese see this previous post https://naturebackin.com/2017/03/16/black-sparrowhawks-in-urban-areas-where-to-now/).
Only the female incubates the eggs for about a month with the male standing guard. The fledglings leave the nest about six hours after hatching in response to a call from the female. They will jump even from very high nests, sometimes being stunned for several minutes after hitting the ground. After leaving the nest, the young are escorted to water by both parents.
Not in our garden, these babies with their parents (only one parent in the photo) were swimming in a pond at our local park. This photo was taken a few years ago. Sadly, the pond was dredged and is no more
Also at the park, in a smaller pond, an older chick swims nearby one of the parents. The fledgling period is about 8 to 10 weeks in duration
There were three youngsters remaining in this brood. When danger threatens the adults call the youngsters to the water
Egyptian geese chicks spend much of their time foraging. They predominantly eat grass and grass seeds, but supplement this diet by eating invertebrates, such as ants, caterpillars, moths, crickets, beetles and earthworms. By contrast the adults are almost exclusively herbivorous.
Both adults protect their chicks from predators and other potential threats. I heard of an instance when a male black sparrowhawk flew down and tried to take an Egyptian goose chick while the parents were shepherding their brood across a carpark. Without hesitation the parents attacked the sparrowhawk and killed it.
Egyptian geese parents are fearless in defence of their nest and chicks
Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca) is the only species in its genus. (Two or three other species in the genus were hunted to extinction in the 17th century. They occurred in Madagascar and the Mascarene islands.) The genus Alopochen is placed in the subfamily Tadorninae, in which shelducks have also been placed. Tadorninae are regarded as being intermediate between geese and dabbling ducks (see here).
Typical of geese in general are the life-long monogamous and primarily herbivorous lifestyles of Egyptian geese. As we settle into summer so the activities of the Egyptian geese will likely settle too as the nesting and breeding cycle gets further underway.
A gust of wind ruffles the feathers of an Egyptian goose perched on the roof of our house
Sources: Maclean, Gordon Lindsay. 1993. Roberts Birds of Southern Africa (6th edition). Cape Town: Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund; Roberts VII Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa: PC Edition. 1997-2016 Southern African Birding. For details go to http://www.sabirding.co.za/roberts7/portal.html
Posted by Carol