A master of adaptation

The Egyptian Goose

Anybody who was anybody in the 17th or 18th centuries and who had extensive grounds loved to impress with exotic ornamental birds.  A bird that was well-suited to this role was the Egyptian Goose. With its characteristic dark spots on the eyes and breast and the rust-brown ring around its neck, its long pink legs, and the dark grey to red-brown plumage on the upper side, it is highly conspicuous among the native ducks.  Especially in flight it can be easily recognised by its black and white wings. Furthermore - and this is probably the most important thing for successful resettlement - the animals are very adaptable.  They can breed in the most varied locations: in tall grass on the ground, or in cavities, bushes or old buildings as well as in abandoned crows' nests in trees, provided that there is some type of water in the vicinity. They mainly eat grasses and corn, but at a pinch bread or small worms and they are not too bothered by intense heat or severe cold. None of the former breeders could have dreamed that the exclusive ornamental bird would one day become so widespread in Europe. Because the birds don't always stay where they have been settled. Over the course of time, escapees from captivity established feral Egyptian Goose populations. In the Lower Rhine region, since the 1970s - probably starting from a population in the Netherlands - there has been an ever-increasing explosion of the animals, which are well on the way to being at home all over Europe. They are thus among the most successful neozoa - i.e. animals that have succeeded in settling in a territory that is usually alien to the species.  Here on the Rees Sea you can watch large groups of the birds all year round. They owe this success not only to their adaptability, but probably also to their assertiveness. This is because Egyptian Geese are considered to be very aggressive during the breeding season; they don't tolerate any other duck species in their breeding ground. To ensure the success of their species, the goose pairs sometimes breed twice to three times a year. They have to because the juvenile mortality is very high at approx. 60 per cent - due to predators, poor weather and human destruction. Not everyone is happy about the success of the Egyptian Goose. Farmers complain about damage to their fields; in parks and on the lawns of the bathing lakes people wrinkle their noses at the plentiful droppings. Some countries feel that the spread of the Egyptian Goose is so worrying that it has been classified an invasive species - in the Netherlands for example. Here, too, its spread is being viewed critically because its aggressive behaviour in the breeding season makes it into competition for native breeding birds.