An Egyptian goose takes off along the Illinois River. Photo provided / Jerry Milam
Egyptian goose lingering near Pekin
GATEHOUSE NEWS SERVICE
PEKIN, Ill. — Jerry Milam knows a rare goose when he sees one. Not only has he seen an Egyptian goose hanging around the grain elevators near the Illinois River, but he photographed the goose on several occasions in late April.
“The Egyptian goose was at the entrance looking for food. It’s a very strange-looking bird,” he said of the tropical goose, a native of Africa where it is abundant everywhere except in deserts and dense forests. Mostly found in the Nile Valley and south of the Sahara, the Egyptian goose was introduced to the Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain in the 18th century, although it wasn’t formally added to the British list until 1971. It was officially declared a pest in the United Kingdom in 2009.
So Milam would like to know what such a rare bird is doing in Pekin.
That goes double for Pekin Daily Times City Editor Amy Gehrt. “We’ve had a few reader-submitted photos of an Egyptian goose over the past month or two, although both times the submitter thought it was an unusual duck. I googled it and thought it had to be an Egyptian goose, even though I have no idea how it could have ended up here.”
The Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus) was considered sacred to the ancient Egyptians who depicted them in artwork. Easily recognized by their dark eye-patch and pink legs, they are very striking, albeit odd-looking, geese.
After taking some photos of the goose, Milam consulted the Internet and then forwarded his photos to his daughter, Renee Thomas, a bird watcher who lives in Florida. She successfully identified the goose as an Egyptian goose.
“I asked a true bird authority who lives here in Florida about the Egyptian goose, but he didn’t know much,” Thomas said. “He noted they are becoming more widespread in Florida and have bred in some locations and he doesn’t know why.”
Rare animals are often found in zoos, but Jill Roderick, curator of education at the Peoria Zoo, said they do not have these geese. Neither does the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.
“According to our bird curator, the Egyptian goose is not rare at all but rather common,” stated Sharon Dewar, LPZ’s director of public relations. “It is commonly kept as a pet — it is possible that this animal was someone’s pet.”
According to Colleen Lynch, Ph.D, LPZ’s bird curator, “Egyptian geese are listed by IUCN as a species of least concern. They are not listed by Cites, USFWS or by the State of Illinois. As such, they are not regulated by the federal government or by the state of Illinois and can therefore be kept by private breeders or as pets. I have checked zoo inventories to see if any of the downstate zoos or St. Louis Zoo hold this species and they do not. I suspect that someone has lost their pet goose. If someone lost more than one pet or decided to release their pets there, they conceivably could be nesting in the area and it would be occurring this time of year.”
That said, Dewar notes that the LPZ “have not had Egyptian geese in our collection for quite some time.”
Egyptian geese may not be rare, but they certainly aren’t that common in Pekin, or anywhere else in Illinois for that matter. Several attempts to call wildlife authorities went unanswered. And several pet shops in the Pekin-Peoria area didn’t have any information on the subject of geese by any name, let alone Egyptian.
“We do not sell (Egyptian geese). I don’t even know if our pet suppliers could get anything like that,” said Dan Miller, manager of Charlie’s Aquarium in Pekin. “I’ve never taken care of one, don’t care to have one — never seen one. And I don’t have a clue how much one would cost.”
One local farmer who didn’t want his name used said he didn’t think geese would make good pets for anyone unless they lived on a large patch of land near a natural lake, river or marsh.
The farmer is no doubt right about not keeping a goose as a pet, especially an Egyptian goose which feeds on seeds, leaves, grasses and plant stems. They also eat locusts, worms and the like. If they’re anything like their duck/geese counterparts, they also snack on aquatic animals, small fish, snails and crabs.
Raising geese isn’t a cake-walk, according to information gleaned from the Internet. Consider their large size. While fuzzy goslings may look cute, they grow up fast if given the proper housing, wide open range to run, special foods and gentle care. “Gentle” being the operative word, since geese are rather large and mean when provoked.
Tom Elliott of the Pekin Park District can vouch for that. “About a year ago we had some trouble with a goose that was laying eggs at the park. We had to call the National Wildlife Headquarters in Minnesota to get (informational) help. The goose was scaring some people in the park.”
Egyptian geese usually pair for life and nest in holes in mature trees in parkland by lakes. They usually have clutches of eight or nine eggs which hatch in four weeks. Less than half of those downy goslings survive locally, due to crows and competition from Canada geese and grey-lag geese, all of which are common in this area.
Although the sexes are strikingly similar, the males tend to be slightly larger. They perch on trees and buildings; swim and fly, and are aggressive when nesting (or guarding eggs). They will bite and kick with their feet. Following egg-laying the birds almost disappear until it is time to escort flotillas of goslings to water.
That said, anyone spotting an Egyptian goose might want to stay clear. They may or may not be rare but one thing is certain: they do fight and bite.