Jessica Meir presenting one of her bar-headed geese.
Image by Joel Rabel courtesy Jessica Meir
Taking a stroll.
Image by Katie Kuker courtesy Jessica Meir
Bar-headed goose in flight.
Image by Frank Todd courtesy Jessica Meir
Very young adult bar-headed goose. Almost all of the baby down feathers are gone around the neck.
Image by Katie Kuker courtesy Jessica Meir
Geesuz -- a quack for Everest summit proof?

Posted: Dec 20, 2010 04:43 pm EST
(By Brooke Meetze: Edit Tina Sjogren) Animals that live in extreme environments often push the limits of their physiological capabilities and may reveal unique adaptations, says Jessica Meir.

No, she's not talking about you but the bar-headed goose, one of the only known birds that migrates over Everest. They migrate between their wintering grounds in southern Asia and their breeding grounds in the
central Asian highlands. For example, one of the migration groups starts out in Siberia and ends up in parts of India, northern Burma and Pakistan.

Perhaps you have seen one.

One tough bird

These geese have some remarkable features unlike other geese: being able to migrate over 10,000 meters; having larger lungs and can breathe more effectively, especially at reduced levels of oxygen; and having a higher capillary density in their muscles to help them deliver oxygen more efficiently (a must for extreme altitudes).

Jessica Meir, a scientist from the University of British Columbia in Canada, is currently studying the bar-headed geese. She is interested in how their physiology is adapting to life at high altitudes:

"Their high-flying feat is particularly amazing because flying increases the oxygen demand of the birds by 10-20 fold over resting levels," she told ExplorersWeb, "even though the air above the highest Himalayan mountains offers only about 30 percent of the oxygen offered at sea level. "

Her studies about the secrets to the bar-headed gooses aerobic success may help scientists develop new therapies for human problems that may lead to oxygen deprivation, such as strokes, heart attacks, circulatory collapse and other traumatic conditions.

How you can help Jessica

Dr. Meir has requested the help of ExplorersWeb readers and explorers for their input. Mountaineers, Sherpas, and others who have spent time in the Himalayas are asked to share information about the bar-headed goose.

Your feedback is requested in regards to the following questions: (please send feedback to Jessica Meir via email at meir@zoology.ubc.ca)

1. What is the highest altitude at which you have seen birds flying in the Himalayas?
2. Can you identify the bar-headed geese species?
3. Where was your location of the sightings?
4. Do you recall the date (month and year) of these sightings?

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