Bar-Headed Geese Are F*cking Amazing, and They Might Help us Cure Altitude Sickness

Excuse our English, but wow—high-altitude geese are amazing (you may have already known that ), but we’re starting to learn more about them, and the the way these researchers went about it is amazing. Raising the geese from a young age, the researchers literally acted as the babies mothers, feeding them and spending every waking moment with them.

The bird in question, the Bar-Headed Geese, are truly unique. With the ability to soar up to 26,000 feet at long distances, there is plenty to learn about these geese. But why? One reason is that  geese can offer some insight into how we can study how we as humans deal with high altitudes. If you don’t know about the Bar-Headed geese, these magnificent birds fly from sea-level in India, all the way to the Himalayas at altitudes where most humans need supplemental oxygen in a mere 12 hours. Yep, you read that correctly—12 hours.

“Not only do they survive, they do an amazing migration where they go from sea level in India all the way to the passes in the Himalayas without stoppin— in just 8-12 hours”–UBC Researcher, Julia York


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How, you might ask? The bar-headed geese have a few unique physiological capabilities that give it the ability to fly at high altitudes such as being able to minimize their metabolic rate in low oxygen conditions, their hate rate not being affected by low oxygen conditions (or high altitude), and their ability to drop their blood temperature as it goes towards their lungs during flight, which researchers believe help them increase the rate of oxygen to their lungs.

So, how does this all help humans? In the video below, Julia York, a researcher who was involved in the study at UBC explains what they’re up to in the lab. After raising the geese to trust them, the researchers were able to train 7 of the 19 geese to fly in a wind tunnel with a plastic attachment on their beak and a “backpack” with a heart rate monitor to help understand the magic behind how these geese make long, high-altitude journeys which would kill a human without supplemental oxygen (and wings, of course).

In mammals, we increase our rate of breathing in response to low oxygen, reducing the amount of Carbon Dioxide in our blood. in Geese, the adaptations range from the way they breathe to the way their muscles work and they don’t get altitude sickness. If we can understand how these processes work, we can more likely apply them to humans.

Check out the video (above) learn more about the work—we hope they can figure out a thing or two about the magnificent Bar-Headed Geese, and maybe then guys can finally catch up to the ladies at high altitudes. —ML