Male Egyptian geese are fiercely territorial and aggressively protective over their females. These geese are monogamous meaning that they have one mate and will only find another if their mate dies, but not necessarily even then.
Physical contact during territorial disputes in this species is rare; most disputes are solved through a number of ritualised behaviours which usually results in one of the males backing off and leaving the area. However, a few days ago, I watched two male Egyptian geese fighting over a female with more violent aggression than one would expect.
The fight was wild. Each goose had a look to kill in its eye. They bit down on each other’s neck and shoulders, kicking and scraping each other with clawed toes. Wings flapped and water splashed in all directions. The air was filled with sounds of chaos. If you have spent time with this bird, you will know of the powerful sounds they can produce. The female, stressed by the violence and angry at the intruder, screeched hysterically, and the two males (in the brief moments they were not bound to each other’s necks) would cry out and chase one another around the ring of shallow water surrounded by reeds.
The first male, part of the original pair, had the upper hand throughout the encounter. The other male did not back down for a long while until he was exhausted by the fight and had to fly off defeated. As he flew, he hissed back at the victor in anger.
Here is my reasoning behind the fight: a pair of Egyptian geese come together through a rigorous ritual of courtship behaviour and through this they bond for life. After bonding they become territorial as a pair, meaning that it is not only the male who protects the greater territory. In this case, as the intruder appeared in their territory – probably in an attempt to entice the female – both the male and female (who is known in this species to incite the male) acted with aggression against him, ultimately causing the raucous.
After defeating his opposition, the victor performed a ritualised ‘triumph display’, in which he rhythmically craned his neck back and forth (with erected neck feathers) and flapped his spread wings. The female then came to stand in front of him, calling as she mirrored his movements. They pointed their bills skyward and bowed and crossed their necks in unison.
Although the fight lasted only five minutes it felt as though I had sat through an action film. When thinking of territorial disputes one usually thinks of the most shocking and aggressive to be leopards, lions and hippos, to name but a few. However, we sometimes forget that the more commonly seen and smaller animals can produce some of the most striking territorial displays!