The Amazing Bar-headed Geese
What is special about bar-headed geese? It has the ability to fly over the highest mountain range in the world. As it migrates into the plains of North India from Mongolia, Kazakhstan and other central Asian regions, it navigates through far below-freezing temperatures (up to -50ºC) and extremely low oxygen levels.
It has been reported to fly at an altitude of 24000 ft. and at these heights, human beings need oxygen masks, protection from extreme cold and many man-made inventions struggle to cope. This bird manages to fly through all this and crosses over with its young ones to land in the plains and water bodies of North India.
There, they spend their time in moist grassy fields or in the islands of water bodies. They take to water or fly away when chased by stray dogs or other predators.
I was once watching a live telecast of a day and night cricket match being played in Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh on TV. At night, the match was briefly stopped because of rain and the camera zoomed in on some migrating birds which carried on despite the rain. I recognized them as Bar-headed geese. They were possibly migrating back to their summer home from the nearby Pong Dam.
I also found a lone bird flying above a Himalayan stream in Uttarakhand in North India in April. I guess it had possibly separated from its flock during migration when chased by a predatory bird. It survived but didn’t know the way to its home so it was there all by itself looking scared and lost.
These are white-headed birds with yellow orange beaks which are black tipped and appear to be fixed at the base as a star. Eyes are small and black. There are two semi-circular black lines – the broader one running behind the neck from one eye to the other. The other line is narrower and is below the first line. These lines give it a ‘barred’ look and hence these are called Bar-headed geese.
The neck has a dark brown front and darker brown back with white space in between. The upper part of the neck is white.
The body is pale grey-brown, streaked with white. The flanks are almost black, streaked with white. The vent is all white.
The tail is pale grey with white tips and with a white ‘V’ mark seen when they are in flight. The wings look dark edged when in flight.
Feet and legs are near-orange in color.
Younger birds are shorter than the adults and the fringe at the back of the neck is lighter brown.
Their arrival in winter coincides with the time of sowing of wheat in North India. These birds like to explore these very soft, damp fields which damages the crop and leads to farmer- bird conflict. Sometimes the farmers even poison them leading to large scale deaths of these birds. In many cases, they are not allowed to settle down and are chased away.
I once was taking bird pictures in Basai, Gurgaon early in the morning when a flock of geese started arriving. A farmer immediately started to chase them away. We spoke to him and explained to him about their long migration journey and their amazing abilities. He understood and allowed them to land.