Ducks and geese have many endearing qualities, but few private keepers have the space and flowing water required by most species. Although not common in captivity, the diminutive African Pygmy Goose, Nettapus auritus, is an ideal alternative to its larger relatives. Those I’ve cared for have been delightful, and quite hardy once established. The Indian Pygmy Goose, N. coromandelianus, offers another option; I’ll cover its care in the future.
Averaging 12 inches in length, the African Pygmy Goose is the smallest of the world’s waterfowl. Technically a “perching duck”, its common name is derived from the stubby, goose-like bill. Others which share its un-duck-like habit of nesting in trees include the strikingly-marked Mandarin and Wood Ducks (please see the article below).
African Pygmy Geese are widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa andMadagascar. They reside in swamps, marshes, flooded savannas, sluggish rivers and similar densely-vegetated habitats (please see photo). Shy and secretive, they do not frequent open water, and fly into thick brush when disturbed.
The seeds of water lilies and other aquatic plants appear to be the Pygmy Goose’s primary food, although shoots and leaves are also taken. Those I cared for also relished small insects and shrimp.
African Pygmy Geese typically nest in tree hollows, but seem more flexible in this regard than related species. Nests have also been found in rock cavities, abandoned termite mounds, thatched roofs and within the nests of larger birds. The 6-12 tiny (1” x 1.5”) eggs are incubated for 22-24 days.
The outlook for the Pygmy Goose’s survival varies over its wide range. In some regions, dams have created the shallow, weedy waters they prefer, and numbers have increased. In other areas, the introduction of Tilapia, Nile Perch and other non-native fish has changed the local aquatic plant communities; as Pygmy Geese are highly dependant upon specific seeds for food, they abandon degraded habitats. Hunting is said to be a threat inMadagascar.
It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the first pair of African Pygmy Geese arrived inEngland. Their “painted toy” appearance, which still endears them to collectors, quickly aroused the interest of aviculturists. However, traditional waterfowl-keeping techniques did not work well, and it took some time to establish them in captivity. Even today, they are not common in private or public collections.
My first contact with African Pygmy Geese came while working in the Bronx Zoo’s Aquatic Bird House. Off the beaten path and receiving relatively few visitors, the building’s densely-planted exhibits were ideal for shy species and delicate rarities. In fact, many breeding and longevity records were set there…including several sandpipers and plovers that lived into their 30’s. We even housed our rare, skittish Goliath Frogs there for a time, fearing that the Reptile House crowds might be too much for them
Our Pygmy Goose Exhibit measured only about 6-8’ square, but it supported a lush growth of semi-aquatic and woodland plants, and was stocked with dead logs, rocks and other cover. Successful private breeders utilize similar designs. Size is not as important as security and cover, although large enclosures are desirable. Wild Pygmy Geese sometimes congregate in flocks outside of the mating season, but captives are usually kept in pairs; in fact, I cannot recall seeing any groups in zoos.
As these tiny beauties do not generate the volume of waste for which ducks are so famous, their enclosure need-not be supplied with constantly running water. They feed at and below the water’s surface, and are content with a pool of 8-12 inches in depth. A powerful filter will enable you to cut back on potentially-stressful chores such as draining the pond.
Commercial waterfowl pellets and small seeds (millet and others typically found in finch mixes) can form the bulk of the diet.
Aquatic plants are greatly appreciated…Duckweed is a particularly important food item, and nearly indispensible when young are being reared. It’s a simple matter to grow Duckweed in an outdoor container exposed to the sun (“too simple”, according to some pond-owners!). Chopped kale, dandelion, romaine, sprouting grass and other greens should also be offered. My Pygmy Geese readily consumed small crickets, mealworms and shrimp, but many keepers do not provide live foods.
Captive breeding is regular but not common in the USA (please see article below). Females sometimes utilize Wood Duck nesting boxes, but seem to prefer elevated hollow logs.
With proper care, African Pygmy Geese prove to be hardy, long-lived captives that are a pure joy to keep. Due to their small size, it is easy to provide them with a somewhat naturalistic enclosure, and to observe a wide range of interesting behaviors. I hope to see more private keepers work with them in the coming years… lessons learned could well be applicable to their rarer relatives.
African Pygmy Goose image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by DickDaniels
Juvenile African Pygmy Goose image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Scott Calleja