The trans-Himalayan flights of bar-headed geese (Anser indicus)

LA Hawkes, S Balachandran, N Batbayar, Patrick Butler, PB Frappell, WK Milsom, N Tseveenmyadag, SH Newman, GR Scott, P Sathiyaselvam, JY Takekawa, M Wikelski, CM Bishop

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97 Citations (Scopus)


Birds that fly over mountain barriers must be capable of meeting the increased energetic cost of climbing in low-density air, even though less oxygen may be available to support their metabolism. This challenge is magnified by the reduction in maximum sustained climbing rates in large birds. Bar-headed geese (Anser indicus) make one of the highest and most iconic transmountain migrations in the world. We show that those populations of geese that winter at sea level in India are capable of passing over the Himalayas in 1 d, typically climbing between 4,000 and 6,000min 7-8 h. Surprisingly, these birds do not rely on the assistance of upslope tailwinds that usually occur during the day and can support minimum climb rates of 0.8-2.2 km.h(-1), even in the relative stillness of the night. They appear to strategically avoid higher speed winds during the afternoon, thus maximizing safety and control during flight. It would seem, therefore, that bar-headed geese are capable of sustained climbing flight over the passes of the Himalaya under their own aerobic power.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9516-9519
Number of pages4
JournalNational Academy of Sciences. Proceedings
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2011


  • vertebrate migration
  • satellite tracking
  • climbing flight
  • high altitude
  • exercise physiology


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