Scientific Name: Alopochen aegyptiacus
Habitat: Found on virtually all types of freshwater wetlands and even occasionally forages along the coastline and swims in the sea. Also occurs on grass lawns in urban areas and in fields with cereal crops.
Distribution: Widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as along the Nile River Valley. It has also been introduced to England and The Netherlands where it has become increasingly common. Within southern Africa it is the most commonly encountered species of waterfowl and is found virtually everywhere except highly arid regions and at very high altitudes.
Diet: Primarily a grazer and grass seed stripper. Obtains the seeds by grabbing the stem at about mid-length and pulling the seed head through its bill, taking chomps at the seeds as they get broken off and accumulate at the one side of the bill.
Forms strong pair bond and highly territorial with much hissing, honking and chasing of rival birds. Males sometimes get into fights and try to bite the opposing male on the neck and at the same time beat it with the wings.
Nest is made by the female and is a shallow bowl of grass, reeds, leaves and down. The most usual nest site is on the ground and in these circumstances the female first scrapes a shallow hollow in the ground before constructing the rest of the nest with plant material and down (see image below). However, nests are often in other situations such as on top of old nests of Hamerkop, crows, raptors, Sociable weavers, herons and cormorants; on cliff ledges; in and on buildings, and in holes of trees. One of the most famous nests was one made by a pair in a small room in the steeple of Grahamstown Cathedral.
Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking from May to December.
The female lays 5-11 eggs, usually one per day, and on completion of the clutch she incubates them for 28-30 days before they hatch. During this time, the male spends most of his time perched nearby and guarding their territory. The female leaves the nest at least once a day for about half an hour at a time to go and feed. Before leaving, she covers the eggs with down, which both makes them less visible to predators and keeps them warm.
The chicks usually leave the nest within about six hours of hatching, encouraged by calls by the female. Those in elevated nests (up to 60 m above ground), jump off the edge and fall to the ground, where they often lie stunned for up to about four minutes before getting up and marching off with the parents to water or feeding grounds. Chicks graze mainly but also eat grass seeds and invertebrates. By 66 to 84 days old they are able to fly.
Adults are fiercely protective of their young and will fearlessly attack potential predators such as Chacma baboon and Fish eagles.