COM­ING TO A PARK NEAR YOU

Bird Watching (UK) - - Species -

It is a mys­tery at the mo­ment. What will never change, I sus­pect, is the wide­spread per­cep­tion that this is a strange bird. Its nest­ing sites are fa­mously pe­cu­liar for such a large wild­fowl – gen­er­ally it uses holes in large, old trees, es­pe­cially wil­lows, al­though it will use plat­forms and some­times takes up a more con­ven­tional site such as an island in a lake. Its feed­ing habits are un­re­mark­able, graz­ing on grass and strip­ping its seeds, of­ten tak­ing to spilled crops such as maize and bar­ley – but it is un­likely that a change in diet has led to its ex­pan­sion. It is less so­cia­ble than many oth­ers of its kind, al­though it does some­times gather in moult­ing flocks in the late sum­mer. The noises it makes are some­what strange, the fe­male mak­ing a nasal call like the sound of a child re­peat­edly and over-en­thu­si­as­ti­cally blow­ing a toy trum­pet, while the male makes a breathy hiss. How­ever, while it is a cu­ri­ous bird, you wouldn’t pick it out as the sort to set out on a con­quest. But, that is ex­actly what it is do­ing. In the re­search for this ar­ti­cle, I came across a small de­tail I never ex­pected to find. I had al­ways as­so­ci­ated this bird with Africa. Its name de­rives, after all, from its promi­nence as a sym­bol of wor­ship to the An­cient Egyp­tians, and these days it oc­curs al­most through­out the con­ti­nent, ex­cept for large forested ar­eas. How­ever, what I didn’t re­alise was that, un­til the late 17th Cen­tury, it was a Euro­pean breed­ing bird, oc­cur­ring in Hungary, Ro­ma­nia and Ser­bia, in the val­ley of the Danube. Who knows where it might have oc­curred in Europe be­fore then? The fact is, one day the Egyp­tian Goose might colonise much of the rest of Europe. But it isn’t an in­con­gru­ous stranger. It is com­ing home. Per­haps it is the odd ap­pear­ance which means that UK bird­watch­ers find it hard to ac­cept Egyp­tian Geese Egy­tian Geese may nest in wil­lows or on is­lands on lakes

OUT OF AFRICA? Though as­so­ci­ated with Africa, his­tor­i­cally, the geese also bred wild in south-east­ern Europe

GAWKY Ker­stin Wau­rick / is­tock The white forewings em­pha­sise the sim­i­lar­ity to the shel­ducks

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