Illuminated River’s New Sacred Friends

From secret gnomes and mysterious doors to overly curious seagulls… we’ve made some rare discoveries on our journey to realising Illuminated River. We’ve made friends with local businesses, local communities, mudlarkers and watermen. This week, however, we discovered some new (feathered) friends who have fast become an integral part of the project.

While installing lights on our first four bridges (London, Cannon Street, Southwark and Millennium) we were alerted to the discovery of some Egyptian Geese nesting under a pier on Cannon Street Bridge. Egyptian Geese were considered sacred by the Ancient Egyptians, so these geese were certainly going to get special treatment. Early on in the project, we carried out an in depth ecological and environmental survey of the bridges, collaborating with The London Wildlife Trust. We wanted to make sure that our project was sensitive to Thames flora and fauna and that the design team could factor in things like bat flight paths and fish shoaling, and use only the right kind of light in the right places. The team ensured that the Illuminated River lighting would be focused only on the bridge’s architecture, and didn’t spill into the river or cause unnecessary light pollution.

Egyptian Geese, as found on the walls of the Pharoh Nefermaat’s tomb

So, when we discovered our new feathered friends, our team ecologists were called in, works on the bridge stopped and a five metre exclusion zone was immediately erected around the geese. We set up a dedicated ‘goose cam’ to keep watch, and started to learn more about these unexpected neighbours and new project team partners. We discovered that Egyptian Geese are native to Africa, south of the Sahara and the Nile Valley, however, due to their popularity, escapees were common and they soon spread to Western Europe. They swim well, and at 63-73cm in length they can look quite heavy in flight. In fact, despite being more closely related to the duck family, it is this heaviness that gave them their English name.

An Egyptian Goose Spreads its Wings

The British self-sustaining population of Egyptian Geese dates back to the 18th century, when they were introduced as popular ornamental birds for lakes and ponds. Here, they are commonly found in East Anglia, breeding near open water amongst short grass or other suitable nesting holes or trees. Though, clearly, some Egyptian Geese prefer a rather more cosmopolitan luxury riverside view!

Keeping watch over the geese, we soon learnt that there were two inhabitants of the Cannon Street bridge pier, one male and one female, protecting a nest of eggs. The male could be distinguished by its slightly larger size and hoarse voice, while the female is smaller and has a noisier, more raucous quack. We discovered that this pair, as with most Egyptian Geese, were likely to pair for life, and both male and female would care for their offspring until they were all old enough to care for themselves. Having been warned of the particularly territorial behaviour of pairs like this in the run up to nesting), our installation team were instructed to keep well away from the geese and treat them with utmost respect. They were briefed, especially, on behaviours of distress such as spreading and revealing the white of the wings, or insistent noises from the mother. Some Egyptian Geese have even been known to attack drones that come too close to their nesting environment.

So far, we have been able to cohabit quite peacefully with our new neighbours, and on Monday we were greeted with a great surprise as the nest eggs had hatched into seven little goslings. Though not exactly anticipated, we have grown fond of these feathered friends already, especially their furry new additions, and they will be warmly welcomed by everyone of the Illuminated River team.

Egyptian Geese, goslings

Illuminated River's GooseCam glimpses the goslings the day after they hatched on Cannon Street Bridge