High Praise

What’s a bird doing flying above Mt. Everest? /

You’re a mountain climber, and you have just scaled the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest. The air is so thin here you need an oxygen tank to breathe. You look out over the panorama beneath you and realize that no living creature, under its own power, can be higher than you are at this moment. But suddenly you hear a honking, and a flock of bar-headed geese fly over your head on their annual migration.

What? There are birds flying over Mount Everest? It’s true. An ordinary-looking goose lays claim to the title “Highest-Flying Animal.” This tenacious bird actually migrates over the Himalayan mountains! They carry no food or water, no extra oxygen, no winter survival gear—yet there they are, higher than any creature should be.

The dapper bar-headed goose (Anser indicus) is a migratory bird that breeds in Central Asia (southeast Russia and western China) but travels to India and northern Burma for the winter.

It navigates the air over the Himalayas at 30,000 to 33,000 feet (5.7 to 6.25 miles). The oxygen concentration at this height is a little more than one-quarter that of sea level—not enough for kerosene lanterns to burn, helicopters to hover, or people to breathe. Yet this goose remains fully conscious and faithfully flies over the Himalayas twice each year, a journey which takes just hours. (An ascent of Mt. Everest usually takes a climber days or weeks, depending upon weather.)

The anatomy of the bar-headed goose includes larger-than-normal wings, lungs that inhale greater-than-normal amounts of air, and blood containing a special type of hemoglobin that carries higher-than-normal levels of oxygen to its tissues and organs.

This bird was also designed to produce ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 5 / September 18, 2014
  1. Editors’ Note
  2. In the Beginning Was Laughter

    What does joy look like, and from where does it come? /

  3. Ultimate Hide-and-Seek

    Why is God so elusive sometimes? /

  4. Aviation Marvels

    Right now there are over 60,000 people overhead. /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Links to amazing stuff

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