How selfless behavior assures the survival of migrating geese

Three lead geese will swap lead bird duty, showing social cooperating instead of selfishness

Ever wonder what it is that makes one migrating goose lead and another follow?

Remarkable studies of migrating ibis—birds with a social structure similar to geese—show the front three birds taking turns, even though there’s zero survival advantage in being the leader, and followers have it easier.

So much for Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene! This is a stunning example of how social cooperation —selflessness and altruism!—assures the survival of a species.

Migrating birds are continually stressed by the rigors of flying for long periods, and youngsters with less developed muscles and wings are especially at risk. Moreover, when they pause for recuperation, they’re in unfamiliar territory and more susceptible to predators. So it’s extremely important for the geese that they have sophisticated social mechanisms such as the flying teamwork that’s been scientifically observed.

As you may know from watching auto racing, there are significant aerodynamic advantages in “drafting” — following in the wake of the leader. But unlike an auto race, a formation of migrating waterfowl gives no trophy to the lead bird.

Ponder this during the 2017-2018 holiday season. Could it be the human species also depends upon acts of charity and kindness —social safety nets, if you will —for its continued survival?

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