I live next to the ocean.
In front of my house, about 5km offshore is an island. Every morning, soon after sunrise, I get to watch the V-shaped formation of the Cape Barren Geese as they fly low over the sea across to the mainland to spend their day fossicking in the farmers’ paddocks, searching for grasses to eat and fresh water.
Each evening, just before dark they pass over again, honking their way back across to the island where they roost and breed. As I sit and write this 2 flocks have just passed overhead like a pair of flying arrows.
Although their population is growing they remain one of the rarest of the world’s geese.
Cape Barren Geese are known by the local Aboriginal people round here as Yarredi.
Yarredi are different things to different people. To many farmers they are a nuisance, fouling the sheep troughs. They sometimes cause disruptions at the local airport for incoming aircraft. Some are illegally hunted.
But for others the Yarredi are truly amazing.
Yarredi work as a team. As each bird flaps its wings it creates an uplift for the bird following. By flying in a “V” formation the whole flock has over 50% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone. By working together they are essentially travelling on the thrust of one another.
Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front.
When the lead goose gets tired, it simply rotates back into the formation and another goose flies at the point of the ‘V’. The geese shift their relative positions frequently during the flight. The Yarredi take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing the leadership. All are equal and all are leaders.
When a goose becomes ill or wounded or shot down, two other geese will move out of formation and follow it down to help protect it. They will stay with it until it is able to fly again or dies. (I have witnessed this twice now.) Those two will then fly together to find their flock or join in with another formation. They are very gregarious birds who form tight-knit units.
The geese in formation honk –called contact calls, these honks help them stay together. It’s as if they realise the importance that each of them has to play in their success as a whole and they encourage those up front to keep up their speed. They are individuals who are part of something much bigger than just themselves…
I’ve heard variations of these stories many times over the years but I still smile everyday as the Yarredi fly over…
We can learn a lot from birds…
(Acknowlegements to Sue Joan; Dr Robert McNeish; Parks&Wildlife Department Tas.)