A migrating flock of geese is a sight to behold. Hundreds of birds, flying in formation high in the sky for thousands of miles, but just how high exactly do geese fly? (Higher than you think!)
Geese regularly fly at altitudes of over 15,000 ft, and some species have been recorded at flight levels of up to 23,000 ft. To put this into perspective, the maximum service ceiling of a commercial helicopter is around 10,000 feet, and jet airliners usually fly at around 30,000 ft.
In this article, we’ll look at how high geese can fly, why they choose to fly so high, and how they manage to fly at such an altitude for so long.
How High Do Geese Fly?
During migration, geese can fly at altitudes of up to 23,000 ft (7000m). This helps them travel efficiently and avoid predators over long journeys.
During more normal, regular flights geese can travel at a few hundred feet above the ground, moving from forage spot to forage spot.
Read More: Are Geese Vegetarians?
What’s The Highest A Goose can Fly?
The highest recorded altitude of the bar-headed goose was over 7,290m (23,000 ft high), during the biannual migration between India and China.
Different breeds of geese fly at different heights, depending on their exact migration routes.
The highest recorded goose flight was made by the Bar-Headed goose, native to China. The migration flight of the bar-headed goose crosses the Himalayan mountain range, the highest mountain range on earth.
Why Do Geese Fly So High?
Geese fly at high altitudes and in an efficient formation to help them avoid predators, make use of natural meteorological features like the jet stream or updrafts from mountain ranges, and to reduce drag and thus decrease the energy they need to expend to fly.
Here are a few key reasons.
1. Geese Fly at High Altitudes to Avoid Predators
Geese have many natural predators, on land, in water, and in the air. Flying keeps geese safe from land and water predators, but they are still vulnerable to raptors and other birds of prey who can attack even when they are flying.
Geese fly at extreme altitudes in efficient formations that reduce drag, meaning they can evade most aerial birds of prey. Since geese don’t fly particularly fast compared to most raptors, it’s important for them to fly at high altitudes.
|Species||Maximum Flight Altitude||Maximum Speed|
|Bald Eagles||10,000 ft||31mph|
|Peregrine Falcons||3,500 ft||55mph (level flight)|
|Great Horned Owls||14,800 ft||40mph|
|Gryphon Buzzards||37,999 ft||22mph|
2. Geese Fly High to Make Use of Meteorological Phenomenon
Geese aren’t weather scientists, but they do understand basic meteorology. Higher altitudes allow geese to avoid low-level clouds and storms.
Jet streams are natural fast-moving bands of air found right around the level geese fly at. The polar jet stream starts from around 23,000 ft. Geese make use of the fast-flowing air to help them get to their northern nesting grounds more easily.
Finally, geese flying over areas of high-altitude land (mountain ranges) make use of thermals, also known as vertical drafts or updrafts. Geese follow the terrain to make use of the buoyant updraft forces, reducing the energy they need to expend to stay in the air.
3. There is Less Air Resistance at Higher Altitudes
Air is less dense at higher altitudes, meaning there is less resistance for the birds as they fly through it. This increases the efficiency of flight, allowing them to travel for thousands of miles at once.
In addition to the efficiency of flying at high altitudes, geese fly in formation, with each goose flying slightly to the side and above the one in front. This results in an efficiency saving by reducing drag, meaning geese can fly for longer and with less energy than they could flying on their own.
The downside to flying in formation is that the lead goose must work extra hard to fly fast enough to lead the rest of the flock. Geese get around this issue by rotating the lead goose periodically.
Read More: Why Do Geese Honk While Flying?
How Do Geese Fly So High?
Geese have a number of challenges to overcome associated with high altitude flying, including less available air, extremely cold temperatures, and high winds.
To mitigate the problem of less available air, geese can increase the volume of oxygen present in their blood, so that oxygen can more easily be delivered from their lungs to their organs.
Geese get around the cold temperatures at high altitudes by the same method as they overcome cold temperatures on the ground. Geese use a thick, external layer of fat to protect themselves from cold. Compared to other birds, geese have much more fat and are better able to survive in the arctic where they nest.
To sum up, geese can fly at up to 23,000 ft (7200m) but more regularly fly at around 15,000 ft (4500m) during migration.
Geese can fly at any altitude, and during short flights between foraging grounds geese may choose to fly only a few hundred feet off the ground, so that they can see where they are going.
The highest ever recorded goose flight was 7290m or 23,000 ft. It was made by a bar-headed goose flying over the Himalayas during a migration flight.
There are some challenges with flying so high, including a decrease in available oxygen, colder temperatures, and extreme winds. For migration flights, the benefits of high-altitude flying (lack of predators, ability to use the jet stream and thermal columns, and decreased air resistance) outweigh the potential downsides.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.