Bar-headed goose

These hardy birds are capable of flying at dizzying heights, where even helicopters can’t fly

Mprasannak

This bird is renowned for its incredible high-altitude migratory journeys over the Himalayas, demonstrating a level of physiological adaptation that is nothing short of astonishing.

Twice annually, Bar-headed Geese undertake one of the most challenging migratory paths in the avian world, flying from their wintering grounds in the Indian subcontinent to their breeding territories in the Tibetan Plateau. This journey requires them to traverse the Himalayan mountain range, where they are often observed at altitudes of 3658 to 4267 meters (12,000 to 14,000 feet), although there are reports of them flying at nearly 10,000 meters (32,800 feet), higher than any other bird known to fly.

What makes their high-altitude flight possible are several physiological adaptations. These geese have a higher capillary density and more efficient oxygen uptake in their muscles compared to other geese. Their hemoglobin has a higher affinity for oxygen, which allows them to extract oxygen from the thin mountain air more effectively. Additionally, they are able to hyperventilate without getting dizzy or faint, increasing the amount of oxygen they can take in without suffering from the effects of hypoxia or mountain sickness that would incapacitate most other animals, including humans.

The Bar-headed Goose is built to withstand the extreme conditions of its migratory route. The cold temperatures at high altitudes that could freeze exposed flesh are not a problem for these geese, as they have special feathers and a unique countercurrent heat exchange system in their legs to minimize heat loss. Their ability to fly through gusts that can exceed 322 kilometers per hour (200 miles per hour) is a testament to their strength and endurance.

Scientists have theorized that the timing of the Bar-headed Goose’s migration is an evolutionary adaptation. By migrating across the Himalayas in the spring, they avoid the summer monsoon season in India and the harsh winter conditions of the Tibetan Plateau. Their strong flight muscles and powerful wings enable them to maintain course even when buffeted by crosswinds, allowing them to navigate the treacherous mountain passes.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Afghanistan
2018
Breeding
Bangladesh
2018
Non-Breeding
Bhutan
2018
Canada
2018
Introduced
China
2018
Guam
2018
Vagrant
India
2018
Japan
2018
Vagrant
Kazakhstan
2018
Kyrgyzstan
2018
Breeding
Laos
2018
Vagrant
Micronesia
2018
Vagrant
Mongolia
2018
Breeding
Myanmar
2018
Non-Breeding
Nepal
2018
Pakistan
2018
Palau
2018
Vagrant
Russia
2018
Breeding: Central Asian Russia
Spain
2018
Introduced
Tajikistan
2018
Breeding
Thailand
2018
Uzbekistan
2018
Vietnam
2018

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Flock

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No