Chobe’s pocket rockets

One of the special sightings on the Chobe river at specific times of the year are Pygmy Geese. On one of our photographic safaris with CNP Safaris, Lou Coetzer nicknamed these birds ” pocket rockets” because of the speed with which they take flight away from you.

“It’s an illusion that photos are made with the camera….they are made with the eye, heart and head.”
~Henri Cartier-Bresson

You will find three types of geese on the Chobe river, the large Spur-winged and Egyptian geese and the diminutive African Pygmy Goose. The Pygmy is the smallest of the three and is very different  not only in size, but flight and its nesting habits. Geese are different to ducks in that they have hind toes and claws on their webbed toes.  This gives them the ability to perch and in some instances climb in trees.


You are only likely to find Pygmy Geese on the Chobe between the months of November and April. There is sexual dimorphism where the male is altogether more colourful. When calling, the male is usually the more vocal of the two  giving a twittering whistle and bobbing his head.


The male has a white face with black eye ring. He has an iridescent black crown which extends down the back of its neck. A particularly striking feature is the powder green patch extending from the ear down to the centre of its neck. The upper half of the fore neck is white and forms an open collar around the neck. Below its white collar extending down its neck, breast and belly is light chestnut coloured. The flanks are more intensely chestnut coloured and the back is metallic green.


Females have a white face with some grey spots, and obvious black areas beneath the eyes. The face of the male is more obviously white, and has green areas. The bodies of both have a tinge of red on the under carriage, with green markings on the rest of the body.


All birds of the family Anatidae (ducks, geese, and swans) have a nail, which is a plate of hard horny tissue at the tip of the beak. This nail is shield-shaped structure, and in some species spans the entire width of the beak, and is often bent at the tip to form a hook. The nail serves different purposes depending on the bird’s primary food source. In the case of the Pygmy Goose, its nail is probably used for digging seeds out of water lilies.


“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.
When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” 
~ Ansel Adams

The Pygmy Goose has small wide wings for rapid low level flight unlike their larger cousins which have longer wings for higher altitude, more sedate flight. The secondary feathers on its wings help identify them in flight, but there low level high flight pattern is a dead give away.


African Pygmy Geese feed on waterlily seeds and are one of the main distributors of their seed. When photographing Pygmy Geese you will often find them in small groups comprising three or four pairs. I am not sure why but invariably the female takes off first. This becomes the marker for our photographic anticipation. She normally gives you no warning so you need lightning quick reactions.


The African Pygmy Goose is somewhat nomadic and partially migratory, making local dry-season movements dictated by habitat and water availability or dispersing to favoured moulting areas.


If this little goose feels threatened it will either fly or dive depending on the nature of the threat. It is an adept diver and can escape an  overhead threat by diving and swimming away some distance before surfacing.


“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

It is devilishly difficult to get your timing right when these little “pocket rockets” decide to take off. When you get a reasonable image of them it is hugely rewarding.


Pygmy geese are at home in trees as in the water.


The African Pygmy goose nests in natural hollows or the disused holes in trees, preferably those standing in or close to water. It also occasionally nests in other cavities such as holes in cliffs or termites mounds or a chamber in a Hammerkop’s nest. The female lays up to nine eggs usually between November and February each year.


Thankfully this waterfowl gem has a has an extremely large range, and hence is not considered vulnerable though it numbers  are decreasing.

“Never forget: We are alive within mysteries”.
~Wendell Berry

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun,


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