Known by farmers as a pest. Known by conservationists as pioneers. Known by photographers as one of the most exquisite and animated of water-birds in the world…
Known in Afrikaans as Kolgans (one with the dot); with reference to the bright white dot on its chest.
In most parts of the world, it goes by the name Egyptian goose, even though they are much closer related to ducks than geese.
Gyppos, a nickname for them in South Africa, tend to be highly territorial. It is not uncommon to see them sitting, high in the branches of a dead tree, squawking and neighing their displeasure at any would-be competition to their chosen spot in the river.
If by chance, they have ducklings, this aggression is taken to a new height. I have personally seen how a pair of gyppos defend their chicks from a ravenous monitor lizard. The scaly one lost the battle.
Many ducklings will however eventually end up being a snack for a crocodile or big catfish, despite their parents’ best intentions.
Territorial fights are often very graphic and fast-paced. Two pairs will face off in an ariel dogfight; wings sweeping audibly through the evening air. Birds become a blur. Yellow green red blue peach white. Water closing in. Feet ski on the water. Attacker lands on the vanquished back. Rides him under water. Wings flapping submerged. Spray in the evening air. Faltering beats. A head breaks the surface. Submission…
As the beaten gyppo flies away, calm descends on the river. A few loose feathers on the water is all that is left in evidence of the great battle fought a mere moment ago.
Egyptian geese have been known as great pioneers. Traditionally these water birds were found only in the wetter areas of the African continent. This all changed with human expansion and the resultant open water sources and crops. In the aridest areas of the Karoo and Swartland of South Africa, these birds could not survive. With human help in the form of readily available food and water, their numbers and dominance have grown to unworldly proportions. Reliable reports of up to three hundred birds in a flock have been reported!
This expansion has not stopped at Africa’s borders, with these explorers now being found as far afield as South England and France…So much for Egyptian goose”…
Sometimes, if you are lucky, you will see them at rest. When the sun reflects on the blue and green on the wings, grooming their feathers you could almost forgive them for their aberrant behaviour. They glide across the water, a picture of serenity… until another, maybe stronger, maybe weaker adversary comes along.