Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca)

This native of trans-Saharan Africa – a Shelduck, not a Goose – was first introduced to Britain for the royal collection in St James’s Park in 1678, and then became a popular bird in collections and large estates. Many were free-flying, and wandered somewhat, soon giving rise to feral breeders; the species has never become established like the Canada Goose, however, and perhaps it is not well adapted to Britain’s cold winters. It may be relevant that they have flourished here only in the driest parts of the country, a climate more akin to that of its African homelands (Lever 1977). Most of the current population of around 400 pairs is concentrated in Norfolk, but odd pairs have bred in other counties. They are also breeding in Belgium and the Netherlands, where some of the estimated 1300 pairs have adapted to city parks, although most prefer rural areas, and the geese are now spreading into northern France. When they become established they can breed at high densities: figures of up to 19 pairs per km2 have been recorded at preferred breeding sites in the Netherlands, such as small lakes amid marshy woodland and meadows (European Atlas). Egyptian Geese are usually found on large waterbodies or adjacent short grass: they mostly eat grass, with other vegetable matter and some small aquatic creatures. Elsewhere in Britain, most birds appear to be sedentary, or make short flights around their home base.

Egyptian Goose has never been known to breed in the wild in Cheshire and Wirral, although they have in the past been kept on many private waters (Coward & Oldham 1900). In the last twenty years, however, they have bred within a few km of the Cheshire boundary. The BTO Atlas (1988-91) mapped breeding evidence in SJ69. The Rare Breeding Birds Panel has monitored non-native breeding birds since 1996, and its reports show that Egyptian Geese bred in Greater Manchester at Etherow Country Park, Compstall, Stockport from 1997 to 2002, but not since.

During this Atlas period, up to ten birds were in the vicinity of Frodsham Marsh/ Weaver Bend (SJ47Y/ SJ57E) from May to December 2005, with a pair farther up the Weaver (SJ57N) in 2006. Two birds were seen on several occasions at Winsford Bottom Flash (SJ66N) during winter 2005/ 06, and a single bird appeared to be resident at Poynton Pool (SJ98H). None showed any evidence of breeding activity. The distinction between breeding and winter seasons is not straightforward in this species as Egyptian Geese breed early in the year, nesting from December onwards, sometimes on the ground or in reedbeds but usually in trees, in a hole or an old corvid or raptor nest.

As with most species suspected of being escapes, Egyptian Goose is likely to have been under-recorded in the county. Neither Boyd (1946, 1951) nor Bell (1962, 1967) mentions them, and the first record in the annual bird reports is in 1971, followed by one in 1972 and odd birds in almost every year from 1974 onwards, in very small numbers at a variety of sites including most of the county’s well-watched waterbodies. Most records are of single birds on single dates although sometimes an individual appears to have stayed for several months. From 1980 to 1985 birds were recorded often at Astbury, Congleton (SJ86L), but the main regular site for many years has been Poynton Pool. Two were there for a week in 1993, with further sightings in 1994 and 1995, an association with the site that was then resumed from 2001 to 2006, mostly single birds being seen on many dates: it is probably significant that this is the nearest waterbody in Cheshire to their breeding site at Etherow Country Park.

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