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2014-08-14

- In the Wild - Egyptian geese - African visitors at home in Bandera City Park

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

From the onset, let's be clear that Egyptian geese - aka Alopochen aegyptiaca - are not native to the Texas Hill Country, but, in fact, originated in Africa, south of the Sahara and the Nile Valley. Nevertheless, a little family of Egyptian geese currently makes their home on the banks of the Medina River in Bandera City Park.
Since being domesticated by the ancient Egyptians, this member of the duck, goose and swan family Anatidae, has also been popped up in Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, New Zealand and Germany. It is conjectured that the now self-sustaining populations in those countries were mostly derived from escaped ornamental birds.
And, for the record, the Egyptian goose is not really a goose, but a Shelduck - a cross between a goose and a duck. It has many duck-like characteristics, but it also has some external goose-like traits.
Largely terrestrial with most time spent along the riverbank, Egyptian geese also perch readily on trees and buildings. They typically eat seeds, leaves, grasses, and plant stems, and, on occasion, locusts, worms or other small animals.
When breeding, both males and females are aggressively territorial towards their own species, frequently pursuing intruders into the air, attacking them in aerial "dogfights." Since there appears to be only one pair of Egyptian geese in City Park, tourists and locals alike should be spared the gruesome spectacle of neighboring pairs dispatching another's offspring to ensure the survival of their own.
And, while we're on the subject of babies, this species often nests in cavities in mature trees in parklands, but usually avoid densely wooded wetlands. The female builds her nest from reeds, leaves and grass, and both parents take turns incubating eggs.
Egyptian geese usually pair for life with both mum and dad caring for their offspring until they are old enough to fend for themselves.
The male and female of this species looks alike, but the male is usually slightly larger. Due to a fair amount of variation in plumage, some birds are greyer and others, browner. A large part of the wings of mature birds is white, which, in repose, is hidden by the folded wings. However, when Egyptian geese are aroused - either in alarm or aggression - the white becomes more conspicuous.
When aroused, the male emits hoarse, duck-like quacks. He also attracts a mate via an elaborate, noisy courtship display that includes honking, neck stretching and feather displays. For her part, the female's noisier raucous quack frequently sounds in aggression - and almost incessantly at the slightest disturbance when she tends her young.
To document the proliferation of Egyptian geese in Texas, Dan Brooks, curator of vertebrate zoology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, recruited bird-watchers around the state to supply data. The study examined the ecology, behavior and reproduction of the geese.
Subsequently, Brooks presented his findings at a meeting of the Ecological Society of America. Although data is currently inconclusive, he felt Egyptian geese pose no major threat to Texas' ecological system.
And, since Egyptian geese remain in their chosen territories as long as water is available, visitors and locals can look forward to welcoming another clutch of goslings - or Shelducklings - to City Park next spring.
The ancient Egyptians considered this species as sacred. While Texans don't go that far, it's good to remember that harassing ducks, geese and Shelducks that call City Park their "Home Sweet Home" is illegal. So, sacred or not, admire them, but don't disturb them.
(Sources: www.chron.com, www.birdinginformation.com, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_Goose, beautyofbirds.com)