We see lots of posts on social media with photos of a large bird hanging out around neighborhood retention ponds, lakes and golf courses. It’s one of the joys of living in Florida- taking photos of and looking to friends to identify local wildlife. Aside from snakes, it’s one of the most common posts requesting identification.
The large brightly colored “ducks” look exotic because they are. They are Egyptian geese and hail from their native range of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Nile Valley and parts of the Middle East, putting them a long way from home. They’re members of Anatidae, the family of ducks, geese and swans. So, not surprisingly, they are not entirely ducks or geese but a fair mix between the two, known as shelducks.
Egyptian geese were considered sacred by the Ancient Egyptians and appeared in much of their artwork. Revered as an ornamental bird, they have been popular imports for zoos, aviaries and other places of captivity. They’ve been escaping such captivity since the 1960’s and have established some successful feral populations, particularly here in Florida. Some of the first sightings started happening in South Florida but they are also present in California, Illinois, New Jersey and Texas with the first evidence of successful breeding recorded in California in 1967. The current population in Florida is unknown but FWC estimates at least 1200 pairs but it’s possible that there are many more than that.
Egyptian geese are considerably dapper and fashionable. With an average body length of up to two feet and wingspans of nearly 58 inches they’re hard to miss. They sport beautifully colored plumage, hot pink legs, and even sunglasses- sort of. Their bright white wing patch gives them an even more striking appearance in flight. They have life span of about 15 years in the wild and up to 35 years in captivity.
They’re mainly vegetarians feeding on seeds, leaves, grass and berries but occasionally small insects because, hey, everyone needs a little protein. They mate for life which is why they’re almost always seen in pairs. Telling males and females apart is a challenge. With identical plumage the only giveaway is size and behavior. Males are larger and, for the most part, quieter. They have a low, raspy hiss and but can display aggressive behavior and loud honking during courtship. Females are more vocal and quack raucously at even the slightest disturbance when tending to their young. If you watch them carefully you will see that, like most geese and ducks, they talk to each other frequently which is entertaining.
While Egyptian Geese are non-native, FWC has not necessarily classified them as invasive in terms of Florida’s natural resources. Like many geese, swelling populations may be viewed by some as a nuisance but consider this: The number of birds in the United States and Canada has fallen by 29 percent since 1970. The report released in September of 2019 shocked researchers and conservation organizations. There are 2.9 billion fewer birds taking wing now than there were 50 years ago. This is cause to be concerned and reason to respect bird populations of all kinds.
Should you encounter these colorful characters, take the time to enjoy them, appreciate them and don’t harass them. They’re trying to survive just like everyone else!