Flight Speed and Altitude

By Dave Hanks

Migrants do not usually fly at their top speed, but fly more leisurely to conserve energy. That way they can maintain their flight for greater distances. Cloud cover can influence altitudes flown. Most, like airplanes, will fly above the haze. Flights over an ocean are usually done at lower altitudes, and songbirds seldom get above 5000 feet. However, the larger birds can get as high as 6000 to 8000 feet. When mountain ranges are in the path, birds can fly very high high enough to get over the range, although most find it easier to take flight paths that miss obstacles.

Sandhill Crane can cruise along without flap-flying, once they have reached sufficient height and air speed. They can glide long distances. Tundra Swan can fly 250 miles at a stretch at 45 miles per hour. The Canada Goose can exceed that by 50 miles at the same speed. The fact that they can do 60 miles an hour closer to the ground, shows how energy and endurance is preserved once flying altitude is obtained.

The Canada Goose is very familiar to us all, as it is the most widespread goose in North America. It can be found in all kinds of water and is a familiar presence (and nuisance) on many golf courses. Their honking leaves a deep impression, as they fly overhead in their classic V formation during spring and fall migrations. Newly hatched young look like ducks, but in a week or two become a fuzzy gray. In nine to ten weeks they grow flight feathers and look like small versions of the adult birds. The webbed feet of this species will leave definite evidence as to their presence when one sees their tracks.

This is a very popular waterfowl for hunters, and their haunting calls add greatly to the autumn mystic.

(Canada Geese: Long distance, top speed migrators)