Geese are often perceived as awkward, rather silly creatures that waddle around honking off key. “He doesn’t have the sense of a goose” is an old put down. But I contend that geese have an intellect and team approach that humans would do well to emulate.
You’ve seen Canadian geese flying over our area in their familiar V formation, which is called a skein. This turns out to be a pretty smart way to fly, for as each bird flaps its wings, it creates an updraft (called an up wash) of air for the bird immediately following.
As a result, the entire formation of birds can fly over 70 percent further in a day than one bird flying individually.
First lesson to humans — one: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier, because they are traveling on the thrust of one another. Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it feels the drag of air resistance by trying to go it alone, and so quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front.
Second lesson to humans: Life is easier if we stay in formation with those who are headed the same way we are going. When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back and another goose flies point.
Third lesson to humans: It helps to take turns doing hard jobs and to take the lead every now and then. The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. Humans honk from behind too, but our encouragement consists of “get out of the way stupid!”
Fourth lesson to humans: Encourage leaders, or at least make criticism positive and constructive rather than destructive. When a goose gets sick or injured and falls out of formation, a few geese follow him down to protect him. They stay with him until he is ether able to fly or dies, and then launch out on their own.
Fifth lesson to humans: Stand by and help others in need. So next time you see a formation of geese, you’re seeing a bunch of pretty smart birds that know the benefits of teamwork.
Steve Roark is the Area Forester in Tazewell, Tenn. for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.