How do geese and other birds survive the winter

Mar 15, 2021Trailside Talks, Wildlife

Trailside Talk

Mal Muratori highlights bird migration and how geese survive in winter

Our Zookeeping Interpreter intern Mal Muratori highlights bird migration and winter survival, using the iconic Canada Geese as an example. The following is a partial transcript from the video:

Hello everybody, I’m Mal. I’m the zookeeping interpreter here at the trailside museums and zoo here to talk to you today about the winter survival of the Canada geese. The Canada Goose is probably best known for its fall migration, so in September and October, these guys will be flying south from their native land of Canada to overwinter in the United States. The reason they do this migration is primarily for food availability. If the ground is covered in snow, they’re going to have a lot more of a difficult time foraging for food, so their migration can be up to two thousand to three thousand miles long, and in 24 hours, these guys can go up to 1,500 miles. These guys don’t go super fast. When they fly, they’re going at about 30 miles an hour. These are big birds weighing up to 20 pounds, so it’s going to take a lot of energy to get them off the ground and into their migration.

They have a couple of specific strategies that they use during their migration. Most migratory birds know when it’s time to migrate instinctively. They get this sort of restlessness in the fall that the field of ethiology calls zogonru. I think that’s a very fun word. Fun fact that animal behavior was actually first studied in Germany so you get a lot of fun German words in animal behavior but geese don’t get zagonru. Instead, they judge when it’s time to migrate when it’s getting cold when the food availability is running out, and they’ll make a decision altogether as a group that it is time to migrate. They’ll signal to the flock that it’s time to go by pointing their beaks up to the sky and honking. These guys want to wait for the right weather conditions to migrate to save as much energy as possible, so they’re going to wait for a tailwind coming from the north that’s going to help them ride down to the south. Another thing these guys are going to do to save energy is flying in that distinctive v-formation. That’s not only to keep classy good looks. With these guys, it’s actually to save energy. It’s called vortex surfing which sounds like a sport that I’d want to try.

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