12 December 2016

Centennial Park, Sydney: Here Come the Emden Geese

Emden Geese at Centennial Park, Sydney

Head to the Duck Pond at Centennial Park in Sydney this summer and you will see more Emden geese there than ducks.  If you decide to have a picnic near the pond these large birds will flock to you demanding your food! Try moving away with your picnic and they will follow you, honking loudly.  They are huge, voracious and persistent but they are  also lovely and cute.  

Emden geese - pretty but pests?

The Centennial Parklands management however does not think very highly of the Emden geese.  In fact they consider them pests that compete with the native bird species for food and other scarce resources.  The Centennial Parklands website mentions that these and other pests ‘contribute to environmental degradation, contribute to the spread of disease and give rise to safety issues through their impacts on the environment’.  

Most likely these domestic geese have been brought to the park and released there by the park visitors.  The Emden goose is the most popular domestic goose breed in New South Wales.        

A goose by any other name:  How to tell if it’s an Emden Goose

The origin of the Emden goose

The Emden goose is believed to have originated from Emden, a town and seaport in Lower Saxony, Germany.  Another theory is that it was created by crossing the German White goose with the English White.  Whatever its origin, the Emden is a prolific breeder and it is the most popular domestic goose breed in Sydney.

What does the Emden goose look like?

  • Plumage - Pure glossy white.
  • Eyes - Bold and ocean blue.
  • Bill - Bright orange.  Short and stout at the base.
  • Head - Long and straight.
  • Neck - Long, graceful and swan-like.
  • Body - Bulky and well rounded with a long back and a short tail.
  • Legs -. Bright orange.  Short but strong.
  • Feet:  Webbed and bright orange.
  • Wings - Long and very strong.

Overall, the Emden geese are a large, heavy breed and the tallest of all geese, reaching up to one meter in height (3.3 feet). 

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander

At a glance both the Emden goose (female) and the gander (male) look alike. However telling the male and female Emden geese apart is not as simple as the proverb.  

The males tend to be much larger and their behaviour much cockier.  They strut boldly towards you with their chests puffed out demanding food. They might even challenge your leashed dog!  The male also has a shrill high-pitched and piercing honk.  The female usually sounds more hoarse and low-pitched.  

The Emden goose normally weighs between 9kg and 11kg (20lb - 24lb) while the gander weighs between 11kg and 14kg (24lb - 31lb).

Day-old hatchlings can usually be accurately sexed as the females have a darker down than the males.  However, after a few days this difference in feather colour disappears.  

To feed or not to feed, that is the question

When it comes to feeding the birds at the park, the Centennial Parklands website has this piece of advice for you.

‘If you love these birds, don't feed them!’

But why not?  After all, going to the park to feed the ducks (or geese) has been a family tradition for many generations of Sydneysiders.  The parklands website further elaborates on their advice.

‘Rangers understand that visitors enjoy feeding the birds. However it is requested that when feeding birds visitors think about the food that the birds would normally eat in the wild and feed them accordingly – remember that the birds in Centennial Parklands are not pets.

Bread does not contain all the nutrients that these wild birds need, so try feeding them grass and seeds instead.’

Now remember that we are talking about feeding the Emden geese, not the native species of ducks at the Duck Pond.  As mentioned before, Emden geese have been brought to the park by its visitors and they are considered pests by the Centennial Parklands management.  Therefore we are facing a double dilemma here. 

Emden geese are good foragers and look for tidbits in the grass and water.  In addition to grass, seeds and various greens they also feed on larvae and pupae usually found under rocks as well as small fish, snails and crabs.

But who doesn't like an easy meal?  Emden geese are no different.  They are also not choosy and will eat almost anything that you feed them.

However, sharing your tuna sandwich with the Emden geese can cause them more harm than good.  Human food, specially bread, can be very unhealthy for the geese. This is because bread is low in nutrition. It will fill up the bird and leave little or no room for more nutritious food.  In turn this will leave the bird sluggish and malnourished. 

Human food is a fast and easy option for these geese.  However, over time they will lose their ability to forage for natural food.  It is important to remember that feeding them human food will eventually make them lazy and dependent on humans for their food, which can result in starvation and perhaps death if and when that food source stops. 

If you do decide to feed them, it is a good idea to limit the quantity so the Emden geese retain their natural ability to forage for food themselves.  Also, feed them nutritious food such as collard, turnip greens, spinach and kale.   

They look quite aggressive - will they attack me?

A flock of large Emden geese chasing you around the Duck Pond while honking loudly can certainly be a rather intimidating experience.  My advice to you is, if a gaggle of Emdens is chasing you, DO NOT RUN - specially with food in your hand.  It will bring out the exact behaviour in them that you fear.

The Emden can be an aggressive breed and they tend to bully other geese, specially the weaker ones.  However, they are a domestic breed that is accustomed to the presence of humans, so as long as you keep a safe distance from them you should be okay.  If threatened or provoked, however, they will use their bills and strong wings as weapons to attack you.  So be careful!  

Spend an afternoon with the Emden geese at Centennial Park this summer

Pack a picnic and head to Centennial Park on a sunny summer afternoon.  If you have decided to feed the Emden geese, remember to pack a bit of kale or collard for them, but not too much.  Although the grassy area around the Duck Pond is great for picnics, it is best to have your picnic elsewhere away from these hungry birds!

After you finish your picnic, walk over to the Duck Pond and wait for the Emden geese to find you.  Normally it does not take long, specially if you offer them food.  Often, you find them congregated on the little island with a lot of trees that is in the middle of the Duck Pond, resting and sunning themselves.  It is enough to get the attention of just one goose - all the rest will follow her to you in a straight line.  

Gently throw the greens at them from a safe distance and watch them flocking to the food honking noisily.  You can also try walking away from them slowly to see how they follow you.  And remember do NOT RUN no matter what you do!

Have fun.   

Emden Geese Gallery

The Emden goose has a long, graceful, swan-like neck and short but strong legs.

The Emden gander (male) is much larger than the goose (female).

The Emden is a prolific breeder and it is the most popular domestic goose breed in Sydney.

 Emden geese and other birds foraging for food at Centennial Park, Sydney.

Emden geese and other bird varieties at the Duck Pond, Centennial Park, Sydney.