It is interesting where new lifers can come from. You may think you have to travel great distances, visit exotic locations, venture into unusual habitats and brave other daunting obstacles to get a new lifer, but that isn’t always the case. My latest lifer, in fact, was a bird I could have sworn I’d seen long ago, and I found it right at home.
We were driving in the midst of an urban area a few miles south of our address, past one of the many retention ponds in this part of Florida, and I casually looked over the water and the reedy edges of the pond to see what might be enjoying this little habitat oasis. There were a few nondescript ducks, a typical white wader, and something distinctly larger than a typical duck, with bold color splashes and a round body that I knew I recognized. Fortunately, the pond was adjacent to a parking lot with entrances on both sides of the water, so I asked my husband to pull in for a better look. As we drove closer – naturally the bird was on the far side of the pond – I recognized the chestnut plumage, lighter underparts, pale bill, bright pink legs, golden eye and bold eye patch of the Egyptian goose (which is a duck, not a goose, by the way). It was a lovely sighting of a calm and self-assured bird, as it casually pecked at some cracked corn someone had sprinkled on the culvert cover earlier, and as we drove away I was pleased with seeing such a distinctive bird.
It wasn’t until we’d gotten home and I thought to check my life list, however, that I realized I’d never actually seen the bird before. The Egyptian vulture was on my life list (thanks to a marvelous trip to Israel I’ll blogging about when I can put a series together), as well as different geese – the Canada goose, Ross’s goose, snow goose, greater white-fronted goose and even the hybrid swan goose – but no Egyptian goose. A new lifer, right in my home range!
Of course, the Egyptian goose isn’t native to Florida, though it is recorded as an established exotic bird in several southeastern Florida counties. Escaped birds are often seen in other areas, and that established population may well be growing. The bird I saw was not banded or ringed, and is likely just moving a bit further north than its more established cousins, or else it may be a mature survivor of irresponsible pet owners who thought a fluffy baby goose would be adorable (and of course it is), but who weren’t prepared for the realities of keeping a large duck as a lifelong pet.
But why was I so sure I’d seen this bird species before? I often receive email requests for bird identification help, and several times I’ve helped birders recognize the Egyptian goose. It’s quite a distinctive bird with its large size and bold markings, and the birders I’ve helped are always interested in how these birds come to areas so far from their native African range. But it is that very same distinctive appearance that makes these birds popular in private waterfowl collections, zoos, farms, aviaries and botanical gardens, and it’s no surprise that they occasionally escape to thrill unsuspecting birders. I must say, I’m certainly thrilled at the new lifer, and I’ll be eager to revisit that pond in the future to see the goose again, along with any other birds that may seek sanctuary there!