Barnacle goose chick plummets into abyss

Barnacle goose chick
Barnacle goose chick reluctantly takes its first steps; video screen grab

The narrator describes the hatchling’s departure from its nest as “a perfect launch,” and adds, “This is as good of a descent as it’s possible to make.”

Yet it must have seemed to the 3 million viewers who have watched the 2-minute clip this week, after it was posted on the BBC One Facebook page, that this agonizing scene represents nature at its cruelest—at least until they saw the ending.

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The clip is a scene from “First Steps,” which is part of a new BBC One series titled, “Life Story.”

The barnacle goose hatching must leave the nest for the first time, but the nest is 400 feet atop a rocky cliff. The other hatchlings have already fledged. The parents are waiting below.

The hatchling is urged by its instincts. It has to leave, but how can it survive?

Barnacle goose chick
The launch of the barnacle goose chick is perfect; video screen grab

Finally, it shoves off and enters what seems a vast abyss. It falls … and falls … and bounces … and flips, and bounces again … and keeps falling.

It’s difficult to watch because the situation looks increasingly grim. But it’s also difficult not to watch, as there remains a glimmer of hope for the tumbling bird.

Finally, its inaugural journey ends. The bird is upright, dazed and wobbly, but seemingly OK, surrounded by its parents. The fledge was successful.

Barnacle goose chick
The fall seems never-ending; video screen grab

“That was terrifying to watch! I can’t believe he survived it. Another of God’s miracles,” reads one of many comments.

Reads another: “I was horrified, heart-broken, and in tears … till I saw the end. Almost clicked it [off] but was busy gasping … I hate animal dying movies … I really thought this was one of them.”

Barnacle geese breed in Greenland and northern Eurasia, and winter in northern Europe and in British islands.

Many will build nests high in the rocks as a means of avoiding predators. The chicks’ bones are reasonably soft and flexible, enabling most but certainly not all of them to survive such astounding drops.

“This is normal behavior for these birds,” reads another viewer comment. “The females make the nests on cliffs that are safest from predators, and this is the only way down. It’s survival of the smartest-fittest, and it’s birds like these that will survive.”

The “Life Story” crew spent 1,900 days filming in 29 countries on six continents, generating 1,800 hours of footage.

–Find Pete Thomas on Facebook and Twitter

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