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bar-headed goose, gray goose
This species is gray and white with two horseshoe-shaped, brownish-black bars on the back of its white head. The body is gray overall, and the bill and legs are pink, orange, or yellow.
Approximately 75 cm (30 in.)
1.87-3 kg (4-6.5 lbs)
Includes plants and occasionally crustaceans and invertebrates
Approximately 3 years
Found in southeast Russia, northern India and western China during breeding season, and in northern India and northern Burma for the winter.
Inhabits high mountain lakes
Bar-headed geese are hardy birds! Every spring flocks of bar-headed geese fly from India through the Himalayan range, above Mount Everest, on their way to their nesting grounds in Tibet. They are capable of flying through the passes of the highest mountains at heights of 12,000-14,000 feet with winds that blow at speeds of more than 200 mph and temperatures low enough to freeze exposed flesh instantly. At this height, oxygen levels drop by one-third; even kerosene cannot burn there and helicopters cannot fly there.
Their powerful and constant flight helps generate body heat, which is retained by their down feathers. Such heat helps keep ice from building up on their wings when flying over mountains.
These geese also have a special type of hemoglobin that absorbs oxygen quicker than other birds; they can also extract more oxygen from each breath than other birds can.
These geese are able to migrate - more than 1,000 miles - in a single day.
Scientists believe the geese's yearly migration is triggered by an environmental signal that allows them to miss the summer monsoon season and the worst winter storms.
These geese rely on flapping their wings - not on gliding - and are able to fly over 50 miles an hour without wind to assist them. In fact, they are so strong that they are able to fly in crosswinds without being blown off course.
ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION
Not only are these geese an integral part of the ecosystem, but they are also important to science. Researchers believe that with better data about the bar-headed geese's resistance to extreme temperatures, they could help humans better cope with altitude and respiratory diseases.
Palmer, R.S. (ed.).
Handbook of North American Birds. Vol. 4
. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.
A Coloured Key of the Wildfowl of the World
. Slimbridge, England. The Wildfowl Trust. 1988.
Natural History of Waterfowl
. San Diego, Ca. Ibis Publishing Co., 1996.