Quirks & Quarks

Geese Put Their Heart Into Flying

Understanding how bar-headed geese can manage to fly as high as Mount Everest in oxygen-depleted thin air....

Understanding how bar-headed geese can manage to fly as high as Mount Everest in oxygen-depleted thin air.

The bar-headed goose is the world's highest flying bird. It migrates from Russia to India over the Himalayas, including Mt. Everest. This means it can fly well over 8,000 metres and deal with an oxygen level of only 7% at such a high altitude. How it is able to do this has intrigued scientists for years, including Dr. Lucy Hawkes, a Lecturer from the Centre For Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter in England. In her latest experiment, geese were monitored on a treadmill in an enclosed chamber that simulated Himalayan altitude. The results determined that bar-headed geese have evolved an extraordinary ability to deliver oxygen to the heart; which, in turn, efficiently delivers it to the muscles at up to 500 beats per minute. It is hoped this research can provide insight into how oxygen deprivation impacts the heart in humans.

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