1729: Migrating Geese

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Migrating Geese
"Hey guys! I have a great idea for a migration!" "Dammit, Kevin."
Title text: "Hey guys! I have a great idea for a migration!" "Dammit, Kevin."


Migrating refers to the changing of a habitat, which happens every year with birds like geese that travel long distances to avoid cold seasons and get back to the food in the summer time. When geese fly to their new habitat, they tend to fly in a very clear V formation. The V formation improves the efficiency of flying birds, particularly over long migratory routes. All the birds except the first fly in the upwash from one of the wingtip vortices of the bird ahead. The upwash assists each bird except for the "leading" one in supporting its own weight in flight, saving them up to 20% of the energy needed.

It should be noted that geese do have family structures with adult geese in "alpha" positions, but not a strict ranking order. An individual's position in formation flights is coincidental and constantly changing, so that the goose at the point of the formation can pull back and rest in the V wings while others "lead" the swarm. Popular earlier beliefs about an "alpha goose" heading a formation for the entire flight is a myth, easily disproved by watching geese formations in flight.

This comic shows such a formation with 20 geese, with several geese and areas in the V formation labeled, giving different roles to the geese and assigning these areas a new meaning. See the table below.

Apart from a "twin engine" goose in the bottom right arm of the V the only part of the formation that would not normally be seen is Kevin, who flies off at a 45-degree angle. In that direction there is no aerodynamic help from the other birds, and in the title text the rest of the geese also exclaim, "Dammit, Kevin" when he (again?) tells them that he has a great new idea for a migration (maybe referring to the new direction). This is either a reference to the fact that migrating birds manage to consistently arrive in the same general area every year, or to the way that vacations are sometimes suggested (by humans): "I thought of an idea for a vacation..." This was only the second time the name Kevin was used in xkcd for a fictive person, see more in this trivia.

Table of labels

Name Explanation
Head Goose

(4th in line to the British throne)

Supposedly, this goose is in line to become the newest monarch of the United Kingdom after the deaths of the three (humans) who were ahead of it at the time of the comic’s publication (Charles, Prince of Wales; William, Duke of Cambridge; Prince George of Cambridge[1]). In actuality the fourth in line to the British throne was then Princess Charlotte of Cambridge. As of the death of the Queen, in 2022, she gained one place and the new fourth in line became Prince Louis of Wales (her younger brother).

In North America, the best-known goose migration is that of Canada geese to the US east coast. Canada used to be part of the British Empire and remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, so a "Canadian" goose would be well situated to stand within the succession (excepting, of course, for the fact that it's a goose). As the main rules of succession to the British throne are being Protestant and directly related to Sophia of Hanover, who died in 1714, the line of succession is long. Very long. Though there probably aren't any geese in that list (even Catholic ones), the head goose being deemed the fourth in line (or the fourth in line being deemed a head goose) may be mocking the concept of the line of succession and/or any perception of the arbitrary nature of its membership.

Quarterback A quarterback is a position in American football, usually placed in the second row of an American football formation, just like the associated goose. On nearly every non-kicking play, the quarterback is the player who stands behind the center and receives the ball to start the play. In modern American football, the quarterback is usually considered the leader of the team, and is often responsible for calling the play.
Comptroller A comptroller is a position in many corporations and some governments. An officer of this title is responsible for the oversight of financial operations and ensuring that accounting is conducted accurately.
Migration abort goose This might be a reference to launch abort capsules used in rockets to safely land astronauts in the case of a critical stage failure. Or it could be operated like an abort button aborting the entire migration for all geese.
Twin-Engine Model This goose has two tails offset on each side of the center of the goose, instead of one tail in the middle like the rest. The "tails" also extend beyond the wings, which makes it look like a Twin-Engine aircraft, which has two motors: one on each wing instead of one in the nose. Later Randall made no less than eight plane/birds combination like this in 1824: Identification Chart.
CIA Informant A person, usually a criminal, that surreptitiously provides information to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a foreign intelligence agency of the United States federal government. If these geese are from Canada, the CIA might have inserted an informant to be kept up to date on their activities. However, it is unlikely that the CIA would have great interest in the migratory patterns of geese.[citation needed]
Backups These are geese that are not used in the formation so they can replace other geese in their positions in case they have problems performing their task. This may also be a pun/joke about technology/data "migrations" where backups should be taken liberally due to risk of data loss.
Shock Front A shock front is the front boundary of a shock wave created by either a sonic boom or another explosion in a fluid/gas. It can also refer to the shock wave itself. A V-shaped shock-wave called a 'bow shock', similar in appearance to the V-shaped goose formation, is generated by a supersonic object. Since geese fly subsonically in normal circumstances [citation needed], they do not generate a shock wave. But of course, this set of geese may be somewhat different considering the involvement of CIA and stealth technology.
Missing Valence Geese In Chemistry, valence electrons are the electrons in the outermost "layer" which change places when chemical reactions happen. As there is an optimal number of electrons in a layer, if there are missing valence electrons, atoms which can fill in these gaps tend to react with the atoms having the missing electrons. In case of "electron sharing" (aka covalent bond) molecules result from such an encounter. The comic suggests a second geese formation that has proper "valence geese" in the appropriate position could bond (=merge) with this one into a larger formation. A normal geese V formation like the one in the comic has one side longer than the other and this is possibly Randall's explanation for the phenomenon.

In reality, geese do form V-shaped flocks, since the rear geese can profit aerodynamically from the vortices created by the front geese, and that way the overall flock requires less energy. So there is actually some evolutionary sense for additional geese to fill the "valence holes". It is thus a little weird that there are two backup geese close to these valence vacancies, as they should then have filled them up...

Stealth cargo being escorted The formation is forming a protective surrounding around an empty space in the middle which in a military formation could contain protected cargo. As there is no cargo visible in the geese formation, it is titled "stealth". This would be a nice conspiracy theory to spread.
Kevin An obnoxious blowhard who insists on trying new, poorly thought-out ideas, completely ignorant no one else in the group wants to try it out with him. "Kevin" is an internet meme (especially in Europe) where it's the stereotypical name of the village idiot. Kevin is usually urged to stop talking, ironically congratulated, etc. It’s due to the fact that this name was given mainly in low socioeconomic class (so Kevins will probably have poor education) and possibly because it was way too common around the ’90s.

Around the time of this comic's release Kevin was a "go-to name" for Randall, seen in 1719: Superzoom as well as What-If #83 as a placeholder name for the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

The name may also be a reference to the intelligent and playful bird Kevin, from the Disney/Pixar movie Up, or Kevin from South Park. “Dammit, Kevin” may be a reference to the meme Moon Moon, a mentally-challenged wolf whose pack (along with other animals) responds to his strange actions with “God dammit, Moon Moon”.


[Caption above the panel:]
Understanding Migration of Geese
[20 geese are shown flying in a typical migratory V-formation. As they are shown in silhouette it is not possible to determine if they are seen from above or from below. They are flying toward the top of the image with the first goose close to the top in the middle of the image. There is one head goose, and then there are 7 geese in the left arms and 9 geese in the right arm. Behind the left arm there are two stragglers that are not in line with the others, but closer to the middle than those above and not as close to each other as the rest but still flying in the same direction. Finally there is one goose at the bottom right corner flying at a 45 degree angle away from the other to the right. The first goose is flapping its wing, which is also the case with six other geese, no. 4 and 6 in the left and 3, 5 and 6 in the right arm as well as the middle of the two in the rear towards the middle. The rest are soaring with straight wings and all of these look the same except no. 7 in the right arm which has two tails, which both goes ahead of the wings, making it look like a plane with two engines. The head goose and 5 of the 9 geese in the right arm as well as the one bottom right are labelled with and arrow pointing to them from the label. The front goose has the label in front to the left, the other have it in front to the right, except the second last in the arm which has the label inside the V and one flying away which has the label right above it. The two behind and right of the left arm have one label behind them with two arrows from the label pointing at both geese. There is a thick curvy line in front of geese no. 3 to 5 in the left arm. In front of that line is a thinner broken line. In front of this is a label written with the same curvature. There are two areas surrounded by dotted lines. The first one is behind the last of the left arms geese, extending in the same direction for a distance of about two geese. It has a label above and left with and arrow pointing to it. The other area is in the middle of the V forming a loose triangular structure with a label inside.]
Head goose: Head goose (4th in line to the British throne)
Right no. 1: Quarterback
Right no. 3: Comptroller
Right no. 5: Migration abort goose
Right no. 7: Twin-engine model
Right no. 8: CIA informant
Bottom right corner: Kevin
Behind center: Backups
In front of left no. 3-5: Shock front
Empty area behind left arm: Missing valence geese
Empty area in center: Stealth cargo being escorted

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Kevin sounds familiar, has he been in a previous xkcd? Mikemk (talk) 13:51, 5 September 2016 (UTC)

I think Kevin is a reference to Home Alone. 14:19, 5 September 2016 (UTC)
1719: Superzoom also includes Kevin. Iggyvolz (talk) 14:22, 5 September 2016 (UTC)
See Kevin trivia from when it was used for a third time --Kynde (talk) 21:43, 6 February 2017 (UTC)
Is it a reference to the famous Reddit Kevin? https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/219w2o/whos_the_dumbest_person_youve_ever_met/cgbhkwp -- Mcroft (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I thought it might be Kevin the Minion. Paddles (talk) 14:36, 5 September 2016 (UTC)
Perhaps it's just a generic name for the butt of a joke, like poor Steve. Papayaman1000 (talk) 15:02, 5 September 2016 (UTC)
At least in Germany there is something called kevinism which assumes that kevin is a name which is only given to children of poorer social groups(https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin#.E2.80.9EKevinismus.E2.80.9C). This is similar to what was mentioned as the reddit kevin. We'll probably have to wait for someone understanding the title text to be sure. Treed (talk) 15:04, 5 September 2016 (UTC)
A quick Google search found this Facebook post from Kevin Hart; no idea if this is the reference, or the comic and Kevin Hart are both referencing an older joke. Paddles (talk) 15:17, 5 September 2016 (UTC)
Probably a long shot, but "Dammit, Kevin" line sounds like a reference to Poorly Drawn Lines character Kevin (he's a bird, but I'm not sure that he's a goose). Check out this comic, for example: http://poorlydrawnlines.com/comic/south/ --DefaultLocale (talk) 16:41, 5 September 2016 (UTC)
I immediately thought of Kevin as the bird from Up. 16:55, 5 September 2016 (UTC)
Same here. http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Kevin. Iggynelix (talk) 11:54, 6 September 2016 (UTC)
I assumed that 'Kevin' was a reference to the novel 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I think a bunch of people have hit the nail on the head - the "reddit kevin", the "butt of a joke", the "kevinism" thing.. aside from the link to the original "reddit Kevin", there's also a subreddit based on other "Kevin"s. https://www.reddit.com/r/storiesaboutkevin 22:34, 5 September 2016 (UTC)
I think it's more likely that 'Kevin' is a South Park reference. https://youtu.be/OyqdoxTEmdg Calion (talk) 01:14, 6 September 2016 (UTC)
I'm 90% sure that Kevin is a reference to an Eddie Izzard skit about migrating birds. He's talking about how migrating birds find their way, but Kevin gets lost and all the other birds just follow him, assuming that he knows where he is going. But it's years since I last watched it and I can't even remember which show it's in. 07:23, 6 September 2016 (UTC)
No, I'm pretty sure the butt of the joke in the Izzard skit is "Steve the Bird". Unless he used different names at different times for the same skit, or unless my memory's totally wrong, both perfectly possible. 08:22, 6 September 2016 (UTC)
Apparently Kevin is also the codename for a new Chromebook. 11:54, 6 September 2016 (UTC)
I know of two fictional Kevins and both of them are jerks. Maybe this is a wider social thing.

I think "Missing valence geese" refers to electron configuration, where they would give/take electrons to become "stable". 14:34, 5 September 2016 (UTC)

I thought so too and added it in the table during my edit. It's not a very good explanation though as I'm not a native English speaker. Treed (talk) 15:04, 5 September 2016 (UTC)

This is my first contribution here so I hope I didn't do too many things wrong, I thought if there's nothing there yet I can't break too much. Thanks for fixing the table, it looks much better now :) I don't know why you removed the part about programming though, because while it's maybe normal that geese migrate it is definitely not normal to have a guide ("Migrating") on doing so. Treed (talk) 14:57, 5 September 2016 (UTC) Edit: Goose also is a network protocol (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generic_Substation_Events#Generic_Object_Oriented_Substation_Events_.28GOOSE.29) which would further support that it plays on the technical kind of migration. Treed (talk) 15:17, 5 September 2016 (UTC)

Maybe it is ALSO about programming, but I do not think it is first and foremost about programming. I'm not sure what you mean about the having a guide? There is no goose designated guide? If there is some goose whose label refers directly to programming then maybe that could be explained in the table. Or later down the line after explaining goose migration. Apart from Kevin this looks very much like real geese migrating, with one arm often longer than the other and often a few birds flying inside the V. And no problem to fix the table, just found another table and copy pasted from that ;-) And hope you will add more to this wiki. --Kynde (talk) 16:00, 5 September 2016 (UTC)
I understand what you mean now, it's obviously showing the animals described as "migrating geese". I for some reason thought it's meant like "Installing Internet Explorer on Linux", not as a description but as a guide title/process (stress on migrating, not on geese). Like that you're obviously right, I just had the wrong approach and couldn't think around it. Good that there's explainXKCD. It's cause I'm dumb. :) Treed (talk) 17:20, 5 September 2016 (UTC)

The quarterback is usually in the second row of an American football formation like the associated goose. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

You would think Randal would have made a reference to Ramanujan, since this is the 1729th comic, yet he doesn't. --Jessep13 (talk) 22:52, 5 September 2016 (UTC)

Because of Taxicab number's... Well it's a very small audience and has he referenced him before? There may be an obscure reference to him in 599: Apocalypse, but not directly. So I think it's not strange, but funny reading so thanks ;-) --Kynde (talk) 13:36, 6 September 2016 (UTC)

Any idea what the 'comptroller' is doing in the formation?

crewing the comptrols, clearly. 20:25, 2 August 2020 (UTC)

In Europe, Kevin is a name, but it also became an insult in gaming community as someone who's is like an arrogant child, or a noob that don't understand what he's doing. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

'Damnit Kevin' is a meme. It is used when something goes wrong or someone is really dump. There is also a youth word/name "Alpha Kevin" meant as an insult (like King of idiots). See: http://9gag.com/gag/aqZn9yp/god-f-king-damnit-kevin, http://de.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Dammit%20Kevin!, https://www.reddit.com/r/Wellthatsucks/comments/40gzbl/damnit_kevin/ and more (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Am I the only one that was hoping for a taxicab number comic? Anyways, I don't see any special meaning to "forth in line for the throne" (as in, who is 1st, 2nd, 3rd). 01:52, 7 September 2016 (UTC)

I am almost certain that Kevin is a reference to the character from the comic Poorly drawn lines, that is the first thing that popped into my head and Randall lists it under "comics I enjoy" http://poorlydrawnlines.com/comic/kevins-ideas/ He is a bird that often does silly things to kick off the plot of the comic, and Kevin split off from the group of migrating birds sounds just like the start of a Poorly Drawn lines comic. 11:13, 10 September 2016 (UTC)

It might bee that Randall stumbled over this paparazzi photo of Princess Charlotte Bmuenzer (talk) 08:38, 13 September 2016 (UTC)

The incomplete notification mentioned the possibility of slang related to royalty and the phrase "Head Goose." I Googled the phrase in tandem with the word "Britain;" no relevant results came up. --OriginalName (talk) 04:53, 16 May 2017 (UTC)

Randall spelling 'dammit' with two m's could be a reference to the title text of [2]. 84596Gamma (talk) 18:52, 8 August 2023 (UTC)

did anybody see that migration movie or just me-- 10:05, 4 June 2024 (UTC)