Featured animal of the month
By Shawna Lawry
Feeding the birds is a common enough hobby here in Pecan. Our proximity to water, shelter, and ample food sources creates an oasis for wildlife in general, and birds in particular, as they travel along one of the largest migration corridors in North America each Spring and Autumn.
Migrations often bring unusual sightings of rare and unusual birds, but recently I had occasion to welcome a visitor from a foreign land…an Egyptian Goose. Well, he didn’t fly here from Africa, but his ancestors lived in the Nile river valley during the time of the pyramid builders and were considered sacred birds to the Egyptians. Because their eggs are nearly round in shape instead of the usual ovoid, they were regarded as symbolic of their sun god Ra. These birds featured prominently in Egyptian artwork and hieroglyphics.
Technically speaking, the Egyptian Goose, scientific name Alopochen aegyptiacus, is not really a goose at all, rather it is a member of the Shelduck subfamily. But if it looks like a goose and flies like a goose, well, that’s how it got it’s English name. These birds were introduced as ornamental waterfowl in Europe in the 1700’s on large estate lakes and still exist there in feral populations in some numbers. Rumor has it that Santa Anna brought the Egyptian goose to North America in 1836, and they are now mostly seen on farms and private ponds with isolated feral colonies throughout the Southeast United States.
These strikingly marked birds are about the size of a domestic goose with pale tan to grey colored bodies, rusty brown backs, iridescent greenish black wing primaries with white wing coverts, small black tails, and red legs. Their distinctive chestnut-colored eye rings give them the appearance of wearing spectacles, and they have a large brown patch on the center of their breast. Male and female Egyptian geese look the same, but the males (ganders) are slightly larger. The best way to tell the difference between the sexes is to listen. Females will make a loud honking noise, while the males will make a hissing sound.
Reports have them here on the Pecan Golf Course near hole #5 and #8 near the ponds. My recent backyard visitor ambled up from the river and has taken up residence in my front garden. Mating for life and often found in parklands with mature trees, these birds will aggressively defend their territory during nesting season, as many golfers no doubt experienced first hand. They commonly feed on grasses, seeds, worms, and insects. So keep your eyes open for this interesting and rare visitor - just one of the many delightful animals we enjoy here in Pecan Plantation!