5th Grade - Science

LESSON PROBLEM: Biology: Why do geese fly south for the winter? Why are rice fields great winter homes for them?


Animals migrate in response to ecological changes. Most of the animals that migrate are birds. The main reason for this, is because moving over large distances requires more energy and speed than land animals can reach efficiently.

In the northern hemisphere, geese migrate from their northern homes to warmer climates every fall. They feed on vegetation. This is the main reason why they must migrate during the winter. In the winter, there is not enough greenery for them to eat. Since many lakes and rivers freeze over winter, this also deprives the geese of their water supply. For these reasons, geese in North America fly from their northern U.S. and Canadian homes south to the South Atlantic, the Gulf Coast states, the Southwestern States and Mexico.

Some geese stop for short rests in the Dakotas, the Midwest and other prairies. But some fly thousands of miles without stopping! Among the most popular destinations of these snowbirds are the rice fields of the United States. These states include Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. Rice farmers, with the cooperation of conservationist groups, have turned their rice fields, which in winter would normally lay unused, into a wetlands habitat for migrating geese. Here, in the flooded rice fields, geese thrive in their usual conditions, surrounded by shallow, vegetation-rich water. The rice straw left after harvest provides shelter and protection. Leftover rice grain, weeds and water insects offer an abundant and nutritious food supply. The arrangement is also advantageous for the rice farmer. The traffic of the birds helps the rice straw decompose more quickly and the birds eat weeds and weed seeds. The birds' droppings are beneficial as fertilizer.

The phenomenon of geese migration is fascinating. Evidently, changes in weather and temperature is a signal to the geese that the time for travel is near. But how geese know to migrate to the same winter habitats and then back to their permanent nesting areas in the north is not fully understood. Most flocks of geese begin their migration by mid October. In September, they prepare for their long trip with practice flights and landing. They eat a lot in preparation for the journey. They must gain enough strength and fat to last them the trip. Geese eat grasses, grains, insects and plants. During migration a goose may lose one whole pound of fat.

You have probably already noticed that migrating geese fly in a V formation. Flying in this formation allows them to increase their flight range by 70 percent because they glide more efficiently. The leader breaks through the resistance of the wind, and the others glide more easily through the draft created. Flying in a V also lets all of the geese see ahead to identify obstacles or bad weather and to keep direction. The geese in the formation take turns being the leader. When the current leader gets tired, he drops to the back of the formation and another goes to the front. The lead goose is not necessarily an older or stronger goose. All geese are born with the ability to navigate. They are born with an excellent sense of direction that helps them find their way to their winter migration grounds then back to their homes. So the geese that you would see one year in the rice fields of Texas, are the same ones you would see the following year. Geese may fly as much as 3,000 miles in one migration season. Geese fly at different altitudes depending on conditions and purpose. When looking for food or a resting place, they may fly as low as 25 or 30 feet. In good weather, they will fly around 3,000 feet to cover the most distance they can. But to avoid bad weather, they may fly as high as 9,000 feet. They travel at speeds ranging from 40 to 60 miles per hour. They make honking noises while they fly to encourage each other to stay in the formation and keep going!


You will need a map of North America to complete this activity.

Canada geese from central Canada fly down to winter in the rice fields of the Gulf Coast states. Copy your map of North America and trace the route they may take. Label their start and destination points.

Draw a picture of the winter habitat of geese in the rice fields of the Southern U.S. and California. Include their shelter and food sources.


Create a myth explaining how geese got their wonderful sense of direction.

  • glide
  • migration
  • ecology

Click here to play Rice Rampage!
The Milling Process for Rice:
Getting rice from the field to you takes
a few more steps. Click here to see a video & learn more about the rice milling process.
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