Shu ku issei no kari – Autumn sky, a single cry of the wild goose
Suddenly it is no longer summer in the Pacific Northwest. We have been hearing the geese migrating South for the winter. Small groups of geese in their distinctive V formation fly over head. Since we live near a large open field and wetlands, flocks of geese stop to rest near our house and we can hear them honking as they fly close over the house.
I did some research about the geese and why they travel in V formation:
Geese fly in a V formation because it conserves their energy. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly for a long time before they must stop for rest.
When geese fly together, each goose provides additional lift and reduces air resistance for the goose flying behind it. Consequently, by flying together in a v-formation, scientists estimate that the whole flock can fly about 70% farther with the same amount of energy than if each goose flew alone. Geese have discovered that they can reach their destination more quickly and with less energy expended when they fly together in formation.
When a goose drops out of the v-formation it quickly discovers that it requires a great deal more effort and energy to fly. Consequently, that goose will quickly return to the formation to take advantage of the lifting power that comes from flying together.
Geese rotate leadership. When the goose flying in the front of the formation has to expend the most energy because it is the first to break up the flow of air that provides the additional lift for all of the geese who follow behind the leader. Consequently, when the lead goose gets tired, it drops out of the front position and moves to the rear of the formation, where the resistance is lightest, and another goose moves to the leadership position. This rotation of position happens many times in the course of the long journey to warmer climates.
Geese honk at each other. They also frequently make loud honking sounds as they fly together. Scientists speculate that this honking is their way of communicating with each other during their long flight.
Geese help each other. Scientists also discovered that when one goose becomes ill, is shot or injured, and drops out of the formation, two other geese will fall out of formation and remain with the weakened goose. They will stay with and protect the injured goose from predators until it is able to fly again or dies.
One late night a few years ago, my husband was taking out the garbage. It was a dark foggy night in Autumn. As he was standing in the driveway, he heard a single goose honking, as if he was trying to find his way in the fog at night. It was a plaintive, lonely sound. A single “honk,” Where are you guys? a few seconds later “honk,” I am here, “honk,” I am alone. He stood listening to that lone goose who had lost his companions in the night, and was moved by that forlorn, melancholy sound in the Autumn sky, a single cry of the wild goose.