Known for their vocal histrionics at odd hours of the morning, the Egyptian Goose is a misunderstood bird. Not really a goose, it is a shelduck, which is a goose-duck hybrid. It has striking features and a stately gait and a cold stare, and is often found around swimming pools and waterways.
They favour wet conditions and thus much of their diet is made of aquatic plants. However, they also eat seeds, grasses, foraged grain and are quite happy to eat earthworms, ants, termites and beetles- sounds like a gardener’s ally to me!
Their ungainly yet distinctive ‘honk’ of a call is a tool for both socialisation and mating. Used as a means of attracting a mate, both male and female geese become rather hot under the collar during mating season often resulting in displays of aggressive behaviour.
Although they like to be around water, they favour dry safe spots for breeding, nesting and feeding. Interestingly, unlike their species counterparts, Egyptian Geese are perennial breeders and have even been known to unceremoniously appropriate the nests of Black Sparrowhawks and other regional birds of prey. In competing for the Best Parent Award, some have even resorted to killing the chicks of their counterparts in a bid to secure the best nest for their offspring.
These birds are very much a part of everyday life in coastal KZN, and we humans have learned to live in harmony with them. Egyptian Geese are not the archetypal bird that flies South for the winter and hence they are not considered what is termed ‘non-breeding visitors’; in fact, they are a common breeding resident of KZN and they are clearly here to stay. Elaleni Coastal Forest Estate provides the perfect habitat for these shelducks, and residents have plenty opportunity to observe their interesting behaviour within the confines of the estate.