Bar-tailed Godwit Migration

Bar-tailed Godwit Migration
Bar-tailed Godwit

In October 2022, a small bird set a new world record for long-distance flying as it flew nonstop from its hatching ground in Alaska to its wintering ground in Tasmania. This bird did not land, eat, or drink for 250 hours (eleven days) as it flew at an average ground speed of 30 miles per hour, traveling from one end of the Earth to the other. The only human-made machine that can do that is a Boeing 777 with a 213-foot wingspan and powerful jet engines. The bird was a bar-tailed godwit.

Bar-tailed godwits, as scientists have discovered, are well-equipped for their long-distance journeys. They possess a high metabolic rate and a physiological tolerance for elevated cortisol levels. However, it is their feather design that truly enables them to undertake these arduous journeys. The feathers of a bar-tailed godwit provide insulation, keeping the bird warm even in cold air masses. They also repel rain, and their shape is conducive to long flight hours, aiding the bird’s forward propulsion. 

In recent years, scientific research on feathers has shown that they are perfectly engineered for a wide variety of uses. The feathers of a penguin are different from those of a hummingbird. The reason should be obvious, as these two birds live in very different environments. Fossil remains have shown that many dinosaurs had feathers. They used them to catch insects, keep warm, facilitate swimming or feeding in water, and attract mates. Those of us who believe there is design and purpose in all living things are not surprised by these discoveries. A contractor building a house will use materials that work in all kinds of houses, modifying them to fit the particular building under construction. In the same way, God uses materials to meet the needs of His organisms in various ways we are only beginning to understand.  

Skeptics have questioned why God would design organisms to travel such immense distances. Does He have something against bar-tailed godwits? In this case, these birds benefit two environments with minimal resources. Alaska doesn’t have large amounts of topsoil to supply the needs of its plants. Tasmania is an island state of Australia, located 150 miles south of the mainland. Like Alaska, Tasmania has limited natural resources, but the arrival of the bar-tailed godwit brings nutrients that allow life to flourish on this island. The design of feathers makes that possible. 

God sustains isolated environments by having lifeforms travel between them or from nutrient-rich areas to areas lacking those nutrients. God sustains the Earth by migrations of everything from insects to sea life to birds to large mammals. Traveling between needy areas sustains those areas and the lifeforms that travel between them. 

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: Scientific American for May 2024, pages 41-51