The goose that never was

Here’s a question that I know has been on your mind for ages: when is a goose not a goose? The answer is, quite simply, “When it’s an Egyptian Goose.” Despite its name and goose-like appearance this bird is actually a type of duck, most closely related to the Shelducks. And to complicate matters even further it’s not strictly Egyptian either, being native to large swathes of Africa and not just the land of the pharaohs. The Egyptian Goose is plainly a bird suffering a full-scale identity crisis!

This non-goose species appears to have got the first part of its name because it featured in the artwork of the ancient Egyptians, who considered it sacred. It was first brought to the UK in the late 17th century, when its pale brown and grey plumage, with distinctive dark brown eye-patches, made a striking addition to ornamental wildfowl collections.Ā  Some of the captive birds soon made an understandable bid for freedom, and the escapees established a small feral population in the county of Norfolk on the east coast of England.

Numbers remained tiny for centuries, the British climate proving to be a bit of a challenge for a species that is native to sub-tropical regions and habitually breeds in January. The bird remained stubbornly confined to Norfolk, so when we encountered one at Rutland Water – just 50 miles (80km) from Platypus Towers – around 20 years ago I refused to believe that the creature in front of us could possibly be an Egyptian Goose. Mrs P stuck to her guns, however, and was eventually proved correct, something I am never allowed to forget!

Indeed, this sighting was a sign of things to come. After being static for so long, numbers of Egyptian Geese in the UK have expanded rapidly in the last three or four decades. The reason for this sudden change is uncertain, although the finger of suspicion inevitably points at climate change.

While Norfolk remains the Egyptian Goose’s UK stronghold, it has now spread widely – and is breeding successfully – across eastern and southern England. We regularly see them at the nearby Attenborough Nature Reserve in Nottinghamshire, and have encountered them at several other wetland habitats in our region. The RSPB tells us there are now around 1,100 breeding pairs in the UK, with an overwintering population of around 3,400 birds.

Plainly, the Egyptian Goose – the goose that never was – is here to stay.

26 comments

  1. Laurie Graves · March 9

    Enjoyed reading about the Egyptian goose, even if it is a duck. Adorable ducklings, not goslings. šŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  2. thelongview · March 9

    Good to know and lovely to see!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 12

      Yes, they brighten up the day whenever we encounter them šŸ™‚.

      Like

  3. blhphotoblog · March 9

    Yep plenty here and they’re noisy blighters!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. shazza · March 10

    I have seen some in the London parks when visiting and at Coombe Abbey near Coventry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 12

      Interesting that they’ve reached the outskirts of Coventry. The westward migration continues…Cornwall soon, maybe?

      Like

  5. tanjabrittonwriter · March 11

    I suspect the Egyptian goose is oblivious of its own identity crisis and, as usual, ignorance is likely to be bliss.
    When I saw my first Egyptian Geese on the Rhine River a decade or so ago, I was struck by their unusual plumage. I don’t know how many pairs there are in Germany, but they have successfully spread their wings there as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 12

      During my research for this post I learned that the biggest European population of the Egyptian Goose is in the Netherlands. That population is thought to have been kick-started by some individuals flying eastwards across the North Sea from their stronghold in Norfolk (eastern England). They found conditions to their liking in the Netherlands, and numbers grew rapidly. Perhaps the German population is an eastward expansion from the Netherlands?

      Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · March 13

        By whatever route they reached their respective destinations, they certainly made a go of it. Many people don’t like them because they compete with native bird species.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Ann Mackay · March 11

    That must be a rather confused duck! They are very attractive and I do like ducks (especially the cheeky ones), so I’ll keep my eyes open for them whenever I get up to Norfolk. šŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 12

      They don’t seem to be at all worried by people, so it’s possible to appreciate their cuteness at very close quarters.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ann Mackay · March 12

        Some mallards checked out our garden last spring. This year we have a pond…wonder if they’ll be back… šŸ™‚

        Like

      • Platypus Man · March 13

        Sounds exciting…I’ll keep my fingers crossed for their speedy return!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ann Mackay · March 13

        Might be a bit of a surprise for the cats!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Carol Ann Siciliano · March 11

    I’m glad to learn about these wonderful creatures and to see them so beautifully captured by your artist’s eye!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 12

      Thank you, Carol Ann. The youngsters are particularly adorable, but I suspect their attentive parents would have something to say about it if we got too close to them!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carol Ann Siciliano · March 12

        I went back to your photos to zoom in on the little ones. Fluffy balls of feathers. And you’re right: best seen from a distance!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. nationalparkswitht · March 12

    What striking geese/ducks!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. alison41 · March 14

    Cape Town has a veritable plague of the birds. Golfers hate them, because they congregate on courses, and there’s bird poo everywhere. Lots of bird poo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 14

      The numbers are relatively small here, so it’s not really an issue. The problem we have is with Canada Geese (as the name suggests, also not native to these shores) which can be seen in huge numbers in some parks and wetland areas. Poo as far as the eye can see…!

      Like

  10. Adele Brand · March 22

    I remember seeing these as a student in Norfolk and, well, it was novel at the time. I’ve also been aware of their spread, and heard comments that they might turn into the next invasive species problem. That aside, in themselves they are an attractively-marked bird and I can understand why people wanted them in their wildfowl collections.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · March 23

      Plainly we wouldn’t want see them rival the Canada Goose in numbers (we’d be knee deep in poo!) but from an aesthetic perspective I think a modest population enhances the wetland environment .

      Liked by 1 person

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