Bar-headed Geese Survey : Mountaineers, Skiers, Hikers, Anyone in the Himalaya
Bar-headed geese accomplish the extraordinary feat of migrating over the Himalayan mountain range twice a year, flying between their wintering grounds in southern Asia and their breeding grounds in the central Asian highlands. These birds have even been spotted over the summit of Mt. Everest, where oxygen levels are only about 1/3 that of sea level. Scientists have already revealed that bar-heads have several adaptations to help them perform at these altitudes. They have larger lungs and more efficient breathing patterns than other birds. They also have adaptations in their blood and blood vessels that help them load oxygen and deliver it to flight and heart muscle. To further understand their physiology, Dr. Jessica Meir of the University of British Columbia (UBC) is training bar-headed geese to fly in a wind tunnel, where she will measure their heart rate, oxygen levels, and temperature during flight. This study, funded by the National Science Foundation, is the first time physiological measurements will be made on this species while flying under conditions of low oxygen, like those experienced during their migration.
In addition to these experiments, Jessica and her collaborators hope to gather more data about how frequently these birds accomplish the extreme of these extremes, that is, how often they fly over the highest summits of the Himalaya. This is where ASC comes in. Your contribution to the project will be to log sightings of these geese (and other high-altitude birds along the way) throughout your time in the Himalaya. Additional information about the preferred and frequented altitudes of these birds will help researchers understand more about the environmental pressures (low levels of oxygen, cold temperatures, low barometric pressure) that they face during their migration.