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How High Birds Fly II

How do they breathe up there?
© Imran Shah View Large

Bar-headed Geese, champions of high-altitude migration, leave their nesting grounds in Tibet and scale the Himalayan range on their way to wintering grounds in the lowlands of India. How do they do it? These geese have a breathing structure that extracts oxygen from thin air, even at 30,000 feet. Inhaled air passes through the lungs and is temporarily stored in several sacs, then circulated back through the lungs. The capillaries in their breast muscles are more numerous than in other birds, providing the muscles with a greater supply of oxygen.

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Full Transcript

Transcript: 
BirdNote®
How High Birds Fly, Part II

Written by Frances Wood

This is BirdNote!

[Sounds of wind]

Right now a flock of Bar-headed Geese could be flying over Mt. Everest. These champions of high-altitude migration leave their nesting grounds in Tibet and scale the Himalayan range on their way to wintering grounds in the lowlands of India. With the help of tailwinds, they can cover the thousand-mile trip in a single day.
[Call of the Bar-headed Goose]
How do these gray-bodied, five-pound geese with zebra-striped heads breathe at such high altitudes, since pilots and many mountain climbers need oxygen at half that altitude? Like other birds, the geese have a unique breathing structure adapted to extract oxygen from thin air, even at 30,000 feet. After inhaled air passes through the lungs, it’s temporarily stored in several sacs, then circulated back through the lungs extracting still more oxygen.
[Repeat flock of Bar-headed Geese in flight]
The Bar-headed Geese also have a special type of hemoglobin, which helps their bodies absorb oxygen quickly at high altitudes. And the capillaries in their breast muscles are more numerous than in other birds, providing the muscles with a greater supply of oxygen.
Scientists are studying the physiology of these high-flying Bar-headed Geese to look for ways to help people cope with altitude and respiratory diseases.
There's always more to the story at BirdNote.org.
###
Call of the Bar-headed Goose provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by A.L. Priori.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org   September 2016/2019   Narrator: Mary McCann

ID#092505highIIKPLU         flight-02b        flight-02b-2009-09-02-MM

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