(EDITOR'S NOTE: This post has been updated since originally published in 2015 and refers in places to a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Report completed in 2009 that is no longer available on the web.)
This bird is a long way from home. The native range for the Egyptian goose, Alopochen aegyptiaca, is Sub-Saharan Africa, the Nile Valley and parts of the Middle East, but has spread to various corners of the world, including South Florida, with a little help from its human friends.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported in 2009 that Egyptian Geese had been spotted in nine counties, including Broward and Miami-Dade, but it says there is no confirmation that the bird is breeding in the wild anywhere other than Pinellas and Hillsborough. However, a Martin County naturalist, D. Greg Braun, reported three Egyptian goose nesting pairs on a mangrove island in the Indian River Lagoon in a paper published in 2002.
And we have seen these birds in Palm Beach County near the Boynton Beach Mall and in Wakodahatchee Wetlands west of Delray Beach. Neither Palm Beach or Martin were on the FWC's original list of counties where the Egyptian goose had taken up residence. We've also gotten reports of Egyptian goose sightings from other parts of the state, including The Villages in Central Florida. Some of the reports include seeing hatchlings in tow with their parents. And we've seen hatchlings ourselves at Plantation Preserve in Broward County (photograh below, right). The FWC 2009 report said it's believed that individuals spotted were either escapees from captivity, or introduced deliberately into the wild, but clearly in the years since that 2009 report, Egyptian geese successfully established themselves to the point that they're becoming more and more common throughout Florida's peninsula.
Despite the name, the Egyptian Goose isn't a goose, but rather a shelduck — a cross between a goose and a duck. They are mostly vegetarian — seeds, leaves and berries — but will eat bugs and small aquatic critters as well. They are believed to mate for life, and travel in flocks made up of small family groups.
FWC says the bird's impact on native species is not known. The feds, however, say Egyptian geese may compete with native birds for food, territory and nesting sites. They're also know to damage crops. In Europe, they've outcompeted ospreys for nesting sites. And they are susceptable to avian flu. Among humans, their reputation is mixed. Students at Nova Southeastern University actually petitioned to have them evicted from the Davie campus, complaining that the water fowl were overly aggressive to humans and wildlife. On the other hand, residents of a Century Village in Broward County banded together to protect a a pair of nesting Egyptian geese and their clutch of eggs. Hunters tend to eschew them as unworthy quarry (too easy to shoot) and because the meat doesn't taste very good. They also tend to congregate in urban and surban locales, which makes shooting them problematic.
In the wild, the Egyptian goose is a resident of savannas, grasslands, lakes, ponds and bogs. They are mostly brown, with chestnut brown eye patches and a large, dark patch on the chest. Their wings are a darker brown, their bodies and neck and lighter shades. They have long necks and long pink legs and feet.
Males and females are identical in plumage, although males tend to be slightly larger. Juveniles lack the eye and chest patches that mark their parents.
The ancient Egyptians considered the species sacred; Greeks and Romans domesticated it. Egyptian geese were imported into Great Britain in the 18th century, and since have established a firm foothold in the country. Egyptian geese have found their way into the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and even as far north as Norway.
When did the species make its way across the Atlantic? Unclear, but the FWC says it's been present in Florida since the 1960s. There are populations in California — estimated to be between 100 and 200 individuals — Illinois, New Jersey and Texas. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida has by far the largest population of Egyptian geese, with some flocks as large as 50 members.
They nest in variety of places, in trees, on buildings and ledges and on the ground. Females lay five to eight eggs, which take about four weeks to incubate. The young shelducks fledge about three months later. Both parents take part in rearing the offspring. The young can remain with their parents for a few weeks after that.
This is the hobby's version of inside baseball, but some birding organizations don't recognize spotting an Egyptian goose in the U.S. for purposes of checking it off one's lifetime list, because it is nonnative. Instead, you've got to travel about 6,500 miles and see one in its native range in order to get credit. Egyptian geese are members of Anatidae, the family of ducks, geese and swans.