They are a familiar sight in Dutch parks and polders: Egyptian geese – recognizable by their rusty brown plumage and striking reddish-brown circles around the eyes. And there are quite a few Indian stories about these exotic birds. Every birdwatcher has a strong story about hunted coots or shelducks, and shells of competing species that they keep on their webbed feet until they drown. They would have developed that aggressive behavior to protect their chicks from Nile crocodiles and tropical snakes – or so the story goes.
They are certainly not afraid. But that persistent image of the Egyptian goose as a ruthless killer is grossly exaggerated, the experts say. The fearless Egyptian goose originates from (sub)tropical Africa. Because of that flamboyant appearance, it was brought to Europe as an ornamental bird in the eighteenth century. That went well until in 1967 a pair of Egyptian geese escaped from a city park in the The Hague region and started breeding in the open field, says ornithologist and ecologist Rob Lensink. He specializes in exotics and did a lot of research on Egyptian geese. “The same thing happened in Brussels in the 1970s and also in Groningen in 1980. Those three populations have intermingled and are the source of the entire Egyptian goose occurrence in Central and Western Europe.” They have meanwhile already spread as far as southern Sweden.
Until the 2000s, the number of Egyptian geese increased by as much as 28 percent per year, Lensink calculated. The conditions in the Netherlands are perfect: a lot of water and above all a lot of food in the form of vast, protein-rich grasslands, which are actually intended for the cows. “The Egyptian goose is a huge opportunist in this regard. They breed in the tropics in the season with the most precipitation, because then there is the most vegetation. They are very flexible in that regard. Here we have year-round precipitation and food, so they can continue breeding for a long time. They sometimes raise two clutches a year,” says Lensink. Even when there is snow, the Egyptian goose is sometimes already breeding.
Once they have their breeding spot, it is defended tooth and nail. But that has nothing to do with crocodiles, knows Kees van Oers, behavioral ecologist at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). “The Egyptian goose sits on the eggs for a month and then the young need another two months to become independent. That is relatively long. So they have lost a lot of energy to raise their offspring. It is a well-known biological principle that the more energy a species puts into its young, the more valuable those young are and the more fiercely they are defended.”
Van Oers immediately admits that the Egyptian goose is a heat petit compared to other species. “Because there is much less food available in his native habitat, he has learned to fight hard for it.” There are even images of Egyptian geese literally bullying a bald eagle away from its nest.
Yet the bird NGOs in the Netherlands are not at all concerned about the presence of the Egyptian goose. In principle, Vogelbescherming Nederland is not against combating exotics. For example, they are eager to see that other African vagrant, the sacred ibis, disappear from our landscape, because it poses a major threat to the chicks of our protective spoonbills and other coastal birds. But she sees no reason to assume that other species are really bothered by the Egyptian goose.
Sovon Bird Research also sees no evidence for this in their annual waterfowl counts. Nowhere are there any crashes in the stocks of other waterfowl such as coots and shelducks near Egyptian geese – despite all the tall tales.
They do cause economic damage. Especially on agricultural crops: they eat the grass that is there for the cows and milk production. In addition, they also pose a danger to aviation. “An aircraft engine is bird-proof up to and including mallard”, says Lensink. “If a goose flies in, it can cause major damage.” The province of North Holland, which has a relatively large number of geese and which also includes Schiphol, estimates the total damage caused by all geese species together in 2020 at 10 million euros.
Also read: Our exotics
Lensink currently estimates the Egyptian goose population in the Netherlands at a minimum of 60,000 individuals, but probably more. The population has grown a lot less rapidly since the turn of the century than before, because a number of provinces started shooting Egyptian geese in the late 1990s. But it is still growing – despite the 30,000 birds that have been shot by hunters on average in recent years, according to Hunters Association KNJV.
It is of course much more sustainable to eat those wild birds than meat from the (bio) industry: those Egyptian geese are there anyway and we have to get rid of them anyway, so the ecological footprint is a pittance compared to meat that is specially bred for consumption. . But then the question is: is it a bit to eat, such an Egyptian goose? Can you do something with it?
An old kitchen saying goes: put the goose in the oven with a brick; when the brick is cooked, so is the goose. the Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) is actually a duck, or more precisely a half-goose (from the subfamily Tadorninae). But because of its large build, it is often counted among the geese. He also behaves like a goose in the kitchen. Wild geese, in particular, are notoriously tough creatures. But it does have a lot of flavor. So yes, it can be tasty. But you do need to know how to prepare it.
Toughness and flavor often go hand in hand. It has to do with the function of the muscle. Every animal has two kinds of muscles: ‘lazy muscles’ for the short, fast work, and ‘working muscles’ for the hard, long work. Lazy muscles are lighter in color because they contain relatively many white muscle cells. Working muscles are darker because they are mainly composed of red muscle cells.
The white muscle cells burn glycogen. They use oxygen supplied by the blood for this. But they can also live without oxygen for a while. They deliver a short intense effort, then they have to wait quietly until the lot is replenished. Working muscles don’t have that luxury, they have to work constantly. Red muscle cells therefore have their own fuel supply in the form of small fat droplets. And they can temporarily store oxygen with the protein myoglobin, which, like the hemoglobin in the blood, contains iron – hence the red color. All those substances in the red muscle fibers – the fats and proteins, and the many breakdown products of that constant combustion – have much more flavor potential, explains kitchen scientist Harold McGee in his standard work On food and cooking.
A chicken doesn’t fly, it only uses its pectoral muscles to flutter now and then. Chicken fillet is therefore pale and has little taste
So there is literally more flavor in a working muscle. A chicken doesn’t fly, it only uses its pectoral muscles to flutter now and then. Chicken fillet is therefore pale and has little taste. A chicken walks around a lot. Chicken thighs are therefore always slightly darker (more red muscle fibers) and tastier than fillet – real satay is made from chicken thighs. A duck is made to fly. A (tame) duck breast is really red and therefore tastes much meatier than chicken, as a result of the tasty combustion in the red muscle cells. You can imagine how many flavors there are in the breast of a mallard or Egyptian goose, which has traveled many miles.
The problem with working muscles is that they also have to be very strong to transfer a lot of power. Therefore, they contain a lot of connective tissue; to hold the bundles of muscle fibers together, and in the tendons that connect the muscles to the bones. That connective tissue, or collagen, makes those muscles tough. The only way to make that edible is to stew very long and slowly. Then the collagen dissolves into wonderfully filming, soft and sticky gelatin.
The legs can be stewed well in red wine and stock (which you can pull off the carcass again). If you pluck off the cooked meat and mix it with the sauce, you make a kind of ragú that you can use as a pasta sauce. Because the meat of that Egyptian goose has such a concentrated taste, you can season a large plate of tagliatelle with a little sauce.
The breasts are too good to stew. They dry out quickly, because game has so little fat – after all, it is always on the move and builds up few reserves. But when you bake them, you want to keep them red. Because waterfowl in particular can quickly develop a watery aftertaste if it goes too far. But even if you bake them very nicely evenly medium-rare, it will never really get tender in the end: the muscle fibers are still constricted in clearly visible bundles and there is still a thick, tough membrane running through them.
The best method to enjoy the delicious sweet, rich, meaty taste of that Egyptian goose breast is to remove all the membranes in and around the muscle and cut strips of it ‘perpendicular to the thread’. That is, across those muscle fibers. Then the strips do not consist of long stringy fibers that remain between your teeth, but of all short pieces next to each other, which you can split with your teeth without any effort. Then you have made very tender shoarma strips. Because of its concentrated taste, Egyptian goose can also have quite a bit of strong seasoning and garlic. A shawarma sandwich has never been so tasty.