Bar-headed Goose

The Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus), previously known as Indian Goose, is a large goose with striking black-and-white pattern on head and neck. The patterned head od adult distinguishes it from all other geese. The species breeds in Central Asia, mainly in Mongolia, western China and Kasakhstan, though breeding range has been much reduced. Anser indicus winters mainly in northern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma, though some may remain in south-west China. The Bar-headed Goose nests beside high mountain lakes and other wetlands and winters in lowland marshes and by lakes and rivers. Habitat destruction and excessive shooting have lead to population decline.

Like many other birds the Bar-headed Goose migrates long distances every year from one climate to another. The difference, however, with this unusual creature is that it makes its journey over Himalayas, which rise to 20,029 feet. It is a real astronaut on the wing! At this altitude, winds soar up to 200 miles per hour, and the air is so thin that helicopters cannot fly. The temperature is also cold enough to freeze skin instantly. So how and why does the Bar-headed Goose do it? Fortunately, the Bar-headed Goose has a number of special features to help with the challenging journey. It has a larger wing size relative to its weight than most birds. This goose also has more capillaries and more efficient red-blood cells than most birds. That means that it can get oxygen to its muscles cells much more quickly. This goose also can breathe incredibly fast without getting dizzy. And if that's not impressive enough, this unique bird can fly its Himalayan portion of the trip in a single 8-hour-long effort, with no rest! The Bar-headed Goose has been clocked to fly at 50 miles per hour, but with a tailwind it can rocket along at speeds up to 100 mph. An inner layer of down feathers prevents the bird from freezing to death, while an outer layer of tightly woven feathers waterproofs the goose and prevents buildup of body ice that would cause it to plunge to its doom. Ornitologists have dubbed its migration as the most extreme on earth.

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus
Photo by Laura Johnston

References

  1. Meltdown in Tibet: China's Reckless Destruction of Ecosystems from the Highlands of Tibet to the Deltas of Asia. Michael Buckley
  2. Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Some of Earth's Strangest Animals. Michael Hearst
  3. Wildfowl of the World. M. A. Ogilvie, Steve Young




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