Nettapus auritus (African pygmy-goose, Pygmy goose) 

Dwerggans [Afrikaans]; Kamugcara (check: same name as Red-billed buffalo weaver and oxpeckers) [Kwangali]; Afrikaanse dwerggans [Dutch]; Anserelle naine [French]; Afrikanische zwerggans [German]; Pato-orelhudo [Portuguese]

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Nettapus auritus (African pygmy-goose, Pygmy goose) 

African pygmy-goose male (left) and female (right). [photo Peter Steyn ]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across sub-Saharan Africa, including southern Africa. Within southern Africa it is locally common in parts of Zimbabwe, northern Botswana, Mozambique, Limpopo Province and KwaZulu-Natal. It is quite habitat specific, preferring inland wetlands with emergent vegetation, especially water lilies, occasionally occupying open swamps, farm dams, river pools and estuaries.

Distribution of African pygmy-goose in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

  • Predators:
  • Parasites
    • Freyana anatina (feather mite)
    • Schistosomes
      • Trichobilharzia duboisi
      • Gigantobilharzia nettapi


It mainly eats the seed pods and fruit of water-dwelling plants, especially water lilies, using a variety of foraging techniques such as surface feeding and diving. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Plant matter 
    • bulbs, flowers and seeds of water lilies
      • Nymphaea nouchali (Blue water lily)
      • Nymphoides indica (Small yellow water lily
    • grass seeds
      • Digitaria ternata (Blackseed finger grass)
      • Digitiaria ciliaris (Tropical finger grass)
      • Panicum subalbidum (Elbow buffalo grass)
      • Echinochloa stagnina (Long-awned water grass)
      • Sacciolepis africana (Swamp hood grass)
      • Paspalum urvillei (Vasey grass)
      • Brachiaria xantholeuca (Signal grass)
      • Echinochloa colona (Jungle rice)
      • Digitaria ciliaris (Tropical finger grass)
      • Sorghum verticilliflorum var. latiglume (Johnson grass)
      • Sacciolepis africana (Swamp hood grass)
      • Aeschynomene fluitans (knuckle-beans)
      • Aeschynomene nilotica (knuckle-beans)
      • Ambrosia artemisifolia (Ragweed)
    • crop residues in cultivated fields of:
      • wheat
      • groundnuts
    • fruit
      • Utricularia inflexa (Bladderwort)
      • Persicaria limbata (Knotweed)
    • Potomageton (pondweeds)
  • Animals
    • fish fry
    • insects
      • Larvae and pupae of Nymphula fluctuosalis (Fluctuating Chinamark moth)
      • termite alates


  • In high quality habitats, males are capable of keeping a harem of females, but in poorer habitats they tend to be monogamous (one female only). Males are also sometimes serially polygynous, forming a bond with one female at a time, moving on to the next one once she has laid eggs.  
Nettapus auritus (African pygmy-goose, Pygmy goose)  

African pygmy-goose nest with eggs, Nylsvley area, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ]

  • Usually nests in a cavity of a tree, 4-12 m above the ground, but also known to use old Hamerkop nests and on a rotten palm stump.  Can also nest in clumps of sedges or among rocks. The nest is usually near water but can be up to 2 km away. Females compete for nest sites, resorting to fighting one another if necessary. The nest itself consists of a bowl of down.
  • Egg-laying seasonSeptember to April
  • The female usually lays 8-11 eggs (probably one egg per day) and on completion of the clutch, incubates them for 28-30 days. Clutches of up to 20 are probably due to more than one female laying in the nest. When the female leaves the nest to feed she covers the eggs with down, which keeps them warm. 
  • Ducklings have very sharp claws and are able to climb vertical wooden surfaces. They jump from the nest when the female calls them from below the nest. Only the female looks after the young although the male is in the vicinity to drive off intruding males. By 65-70 days the young have fully developed flight feathers. 


No significant threats; in fact the population has expanded as a result of the building of dams.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 




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