Cassowary – A Strange Bird

Cassowary – A Strange Bird

When we think of birds, we usually picture songbirds, chickens, pigeons, eagles, and others. However, we are also aware of less familiar birds such as penguins, ostriches, and kiwis. Imagine a bird that stands up to six feet (1.8 m) tall, weighs 130 pounds (59 kg), has spine-like quills in place of feathers, and has a four to five-inch (12.5 cm) claw on its inner toe that it can use to stab and even kill a dog or a human. This creature can run 30 miles (50 km) per hour and jump more than five feet (1.5 m) in the air. The name of this bird is the cassowary.

These birds, native to New Guinea, Indonesia, and Australia, can kick, stab, head butt, and peck. Cassowaries are a factor in the discussion of whether the dinosaurs were birds or reptiles. The wings of most modern birds are for flying, or in some cases, for swimming underwater. Instead of feathers, cassowary wings are tipped with large quills resembling porcupine quills without the barbs. Some dinosaur fossils give evidence of feathers, but we don’t know their function. However, cassowaries demonstrate that wing-like and feather-like structures can have other functions.

The cassowary can teach us many lessons. One is that taxonomy gives us only a limited view of various animals. Another is that birds have more than one role in ecological applications. Cassowaries play an essential role in the ecosystem where they live. They are omnivores, eating fruits as well as small animals. They lay eggs in a nest on the ground and incubate the eggs. The males are the primary caregivers during incubation, and they care for the young after the eggs hatch. We tend to view flightless birds as vulnerable creatures that live only where there are no predators to threaten them. Cassowaries show us that is not always true. They can defend themselves and live for 40 to 50 years.

The biblical view of birds includes only birds that could fly. The Hebrew word commonly used for “bird” in the Old Testament is “tsippor,” meaning a small bird, such as a sparrow. (For example, see Genesis 7:14 and 15:10, and Ezekiel 39:4.) The Hebrew word “oph” refers to a flying bird. (For example, see Genesis 40:17-19, 2 Samuel 21:10, Ecclesiastes 10:20, and Hosea 9:11). “Ayit” refers to a hawk or bird of prey. (See Isaiah 46:11 and Jeremiah 12:9.) In the New Testament, the Greek word “peteinon,” meaning flying or winged bird, is used in Matthew 8:20 and 13:32, Luke 9:58, Romans 1:23, and James 3:7.

The Cassowary does not fit any of those passages, considering that people in the world of both Moses and Jesus did not have contact with flightless birds. Instead, we can view the cassowary as a part of God’s creation to fill a very different kind of ecological niche. However, its role in creation’s design and the world today remains a subject of future study.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: World Wildlife magazine for the summer of 2021 page 6, Encyclopedia Britannica online 9/2/21/, and Wikipedia.

Birds are Better Than Pesticides

Birds are Better Than Pesticides

One of the major scourges that farmers face is crop damage from insects. Farmers spend massive amounts of money on pesticides to get rid of the pests that invade almost every crop they grow. There is also a significant problem with rodents in some crops, and again chemical elimination of rodents is expensive and does a great deal of collateral damage. The solution to all of this is birds. Birds are better than pesticides.

God has always built into the natural environment a way to keep insects and rodents in check. Predators prevent the overpopulation of these pest challenges to human farmers. When humans kill off the predators, the only recourse is using chemicals. New studies have shown how vital birds are to the control of insects and rodents. Birds are better than pesticides. Here are some examples:

FLOOD CONTROL DAMS AND LEVEES – Ground squirrels and gophers burrow under dams and levees, causing the collapse of these structures. Chemical use of anticoagulant rodenticides cost Ventura County, California, $7500 a year and also killed coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions. So instead, the county installed raptor perches to attract owls, hawks, and falcons. Studies showed that those birds were 67% more effective in controlling rodent burrows and saved $7500.

INDONESIAN CACAO PLANTATIONS – Yields of cacao, used for making chocolate, have increased by 290 pounds per acre after adding bird boxes to the fields.

EUROPEAN APPLE GROWERS – Growers have reduced caterpillar damage by 50% by adding nest boxes that attract insectivorous birds known as great tits.

COFFEE BEANS – Farmers in Jamaica added bird boxes and reduced the number of coffee berry borers, increasing profits by $126 per acre.

CALIFORNIA VINEYARDS – Pocket gophers and voles were damaging crops up to $58 per acre. A single family of barn owls placed in a nest box killed 3,000 rodents in a single year. Armyworms are a problem for U.S. Vineyards as well as for beet growers. In California, nest boxes have attracted bluebirds that eat 2.4 times the number of armyworms as areas without bird boxes.

WALNUT GROVES – Moth Larvae are a problem for walnut growers. Placing bird boxes eliminated four times as many of the larvae as other methods.

Humans have created many problems by not using God’s methods of controlling pests. Research shows that chemicals which cause cancer and other issues are not nearly as effective as birds in eliminating the scourges farmers face. Birds are better than pesticides.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Living Bird, Summer 2021, Volume 40 # 3, pages 33 – 42. Available from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The Wonder of Birds

The Wonder of Birds - Bald Eagle

We live on the edge of the St. Joseph River in Michigan. By the river and surrounded by woods, I have the joy of observing the wonder of birds in enormous varieties. As I watch geese, swans and ducks take off and land on the river, I am amazed at the way they put their feet out and water ski to a stop. I enjoy seeing them stand on one foot, seemingly asleep with half of their bodies ready to react to any danger.

When our resident bald eagle flies by 100 feet above the water, the ducks turn their heads to track the eagle. The eagle swoops down and picks up a small dead fish which I couldn’t see from 20 feet away. I watch three species of woodpeckers hammer away at the trees on the edge of the river with such force that bark flies in all directions. Still, the design of their skulls lets them do this for hours on end without brain damage.

I watch the finches and nuthatches pick off berries from the poison ivy and eat them in the dead of winter. They never have any problem with the oil that I am allergic to. I watch the hummingbirds come to my feeders and hover for a long time, eating the sugar solution and engaging in territorial combat. I hear the birds singing as they mark their territories, with each species having its own peculiar melody.

As a person trained in physics and chemistry, I am enthralled by the wonder of birds and their widely varied properties. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an ongoing study of the properties and abilities of birds. One area of research is the specialized equipment individual bird species have. The eagle’s eyes are incredible optical tools that give it the ability to see a small fish from 100 feet above the water.

Woodpecker heads show engineering with their shock-absorbing design to prevent brain damage from the constant hammering they use to get bugs. People researching flight techniques study the wing design of hummingbirds which allows them to hover. The design of the bird’s gut prevents the poison ivy oil from lingering long enough to cause a reaction.

All birds have design features that allow them to survive. Their digestive and waste removal systems avoid the use of a bladder. The vascular system with a unique heart design allows the Swainson’s thrush to travel 3000 miles in a single flight with its heart beating 840 times a minute. Darwin showed us that the design of the bird genetics is flexible enough to allow their beaks to vary depending on what diet is available in their environment.

Humans throughout history have depended on birds as a food source. Where would we be in America without chickens and turkeys? God sustained the ancient Israelites with quails, a provision that continues today in that part of the world. In some areas, songbirds are a source of meat even though they are small. For those of us who look for evidence of God’s design in the natural world, birds are an incredible example of how much has to be done to produce an animal that can do what birds do.

The wonder of birds is not reasonably explained by accidental change. We all need to be concerned about the fact that between human exploitation, the removal of resources and habitat by humans, natural climate change, and pollution, the population of birds on our planet is getting smaller and smaller. Since 1970, three billion birds have vanished from the United States. God told us to take care of the world in which He has placed us. Caring for all of God’s creatures, including birds, is everyone’s responsibility.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Value of Insects in the Ecosystem

Value of Insects in the Ecosystem

We get many interesting responses to our daily articles on this website. Recently, several people responded to our emphasis on the value of insects. Bugs can indeed bother us. Some bite or sting, while others eat our vegetation encroaching on our food supply. Despite those things, we have pointed out that entomologists tell us that insects are beneficial.

Akito Kawahara, a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said that most people are unaware of the value of insects. Kawahara points out that insects annually contribute 70 billion dollars to the U.S. economy by their roles in pollination and waste disposal processing. Everyone knows that insects are involved in pollinating flowering plants, but they may not realize that insects are the linchpins, holding together almost all land-based ecosystems. Also, insects provide food sources for birds, bats, freshwater fish, and numerous land animals.

Not realizing the value of insects, humans have done much to eradicate them. We have reduced their habitat, used massive amounts of pesticides, and made them victims of pollution. Sometimes, we have brought in invasive species of animals and plants that harm the ecosystems. We have also done things that accelerate climate change. The National Academy of Sciences suggests initiating a campaign to encourage people to avoid using bug zappers, practice insect conservation, do less mowing, and use insect-friendly soaps and sealants.

God set up a working system that has produced a high standard of living for thousands of years. We are threatening to unbalance the system by our capacity for high tech devices and materials. Sometimes insect populations get out of control and damage human resources, such as the locust invasions of recent years. It is often human interference with the natural controlling agents that have caused the insect infestations. People need to be aware of the value of insects to life on this planet.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from National Science Foundation

Counting Birds for Science

Counting Birds for Science

How many bird species can you identify? There are over 10,000 known species of birds in the world, and I am sure you could not identify them all. But God can. More than that, He sees each one individually (Matthew 10:29). That staggers my mind. Sometimes I can’t keep up with counting birds at my backyard bird feeders.

We often feature birds in our daily Facebook postings, and many times we have talked about birds on this website. (For example, HERE, HERE, and HERE.) Birds are fascinating, beautiful, and intelligent creatures. Birds, like mammals, can be trained to do things and respond to humans in various ways. We see that as a purposeful design by our Creator to allow us to bond with these animals.

Watching birds fly through the air and listening to their beautiful songs are fascinating and enjoyable activities. Since the beginning, humans have longed for the ability to fly and see the world from our feathered friends’ perspective. Sometimes, people have been careless in causing harm or even extinction to bird species. When we see the many ways birds benefit life on Earth, we must recognize that we should be good stewards of what God has given us.

An annual worldwide event known as The Great Backyard Bird Count is now in progress. It’s a science project that you can get involved in no matter who you are or where you live. This year, from February 12-15 people worldwide will be counting birds in their vicinity. By doing that, they are helping to compile a database of birds. All you have to do is take at least one period of 15 minutes or more and make a list of all the birds you see in your backyard, in a local park, outside your apartment window, or anywhere else that’s convenient. Just record your location, start and end times, and the number and types of birds you see.

Of course, you can spend more than 15 minutes, or you can do it on each of the four days, or even multiple times per day. As in past years, the statistics from bird watchers worldwide will be tabulated by scientists to get a better picture of the world bird population and health. To help you identify birds, you can consult websites such as WhatBird.com and AllAboutBirds.org, which are free to use.

Counting birds is a science project that anyone can do. To learn the details of how you can get involved in this worldwide project, sign up for free at www.birdcount.org. We think that learning more about God’s creation helps us see our Creator’s wisdom and love. (Matthew 6:26)

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Native Plants Are Best for Birds

Native Plants Are Best for Birds

One of the ecological issues of recent years has been the role of invasive species and how they affect local birds and mammals. Recent studies show that berries produced by native plants are best for birds. Besides that, the birds prefer local varieties over the fruits of introduced species.

Studies of native bayberries have shown that they contain more fats, carbohydrates, and nutrients that birds need to survive. Amanda Gallinat of Utah State University said that invasive fruits are usually nutrient-poor. For people who enjoy watching birds, that is something to keep in mind when choosing plants for their yards.

Viburnums such as arrow-wood viburnum produce berries that are high in fats and carbohydrates, which help birds prepare for making long migration flights. For birds that stay around in the cold weather, another factor that favors native plants is how long they hang on to their berries. Winterberry is a native holly that can hold its berries well into the cold months.

When you talk about the design built into the migrations and lives of birds, it is not just the birds’ design but also the design of the nutritional system that supports them. Native plants are best for birds because they often give the birds better nutritional support than species brought in from other areas of the world.

God’s design for life is best, but humans often introduce non-native plants and animals that sometimes become invasive species. People may introduce non-native species with good intentions, or perhaps invasive species arrive by accident with foreign cargo. Either way, we must learn to be better stewards of the planet over which God gave us dominion. (See Genesis 1:28.)

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from National Wildlife, February-March 2021, page 12.

Tiny Living Things that Make Life Possible

Tiny Living Things that Make Life Possible

The natural world is incredibly complex, with a staggering number of things that we are not even aware of. Every cubic meter of air above a grassy field can contain more than 100,000 living things, many of which we can’t see. We seldom realize that it is these tiny living things that make life possible.

In 2008, Dr. Thomas Kunz at Boston University helped to establish a new scientific discipline called aeroecology. Dr. Kunz and his team used radar, telemetry, thermal imaging, and acoustic monitoring devices to study our lower atmosphere. Other scientists have continued studying aeroecology, which provides useful information in biology and such diverse areas as weather, wind turbines, conditions around airports affecting airplane safety, and disease control.


Aeroecology also involves controlling and maintaining insect populations. Insects are pollinators, and they are critical in a variety of food chains. Recent problems with bee die-offs have affected food production in many areas. Birds and bats help control airborne insects, and their survival is essential to maintain healthy conditions for the success of farming. A purple martin will eat about 20,000 insects yearly, which means this one species removes roughly 412 billion bugs from the atmosphere every year. Some birds stay in the air eating bugs for months at a time, like the alpine swifts of Europe and Africa. They can fly continuously for up to seven months while eating, drinking, and even sleeping.

All of this atmospheric life has a direct bearing on our bodies. We take in massive numbers of bacteria from the atmosphere. Studies by the germ-free research center at Notre Dame University have shown that microbes are critical for life. Researchers found that germ-free rabbits were unable to reproduce. Babies exposed to antibiotics during the first six months of their lives are prone to being overweight. A lack of microbes alters the serotonin levels in humans, affecting many areas of our health. Healthy humans have 1000 microbial species in their mouths and more than 10,000 species in their digestive systems.

The bottom line is that the life of a plant or animal is not just about the organism itself. It is also about the tiny living things that make life possible. The air and the soil are full of these supporting organisms. This indicates design by an Intelligence far beyond what humans can comprehend.

As we get more and better tools to look into the very small, we are astounded by their complexity and function. The Bible simply says God created life. We don’t see any detail, nor should we expect to. How would you explain bacteria to a man with no microscope? “We can know there is a God through the things he has made” (Romans 1:20). Our ability to understand the tiny living things that make life possible leaves us in awe of what God has done.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Footnote: In 2011, Dr. Thomas Kunz was struck by a car and severely injured, ending his career. In 2020, Dr. Kunz, who introduced the science of aeroecology, died from an airborne disease—COVID-19. You can read more about his remarkable life HERE and HERE.

God’s Diversity of Birds

God's Diversity of Birds

An interesting study involves the biblical classifications of living things. Genesis doesn’t talk about species — it talks about broad groupings. For example, “the flesh of fish” and “the flesh of birds” (1 Corinthians 15:39 and Genesis 1:20-21) includes a wide range of species with many adaptions to particular environments. There is no better example of adaptation than what we see in God’s diversity of birds.

The December 5, 2020, issue of Science News featured a discussion of recent studies into the genomes of modern birds. called the “Bird 10,000 Genomes Project.” An international team of researchers has published the genomes for 363 species of birds, covering roughly 92% of all modern bird families. The scientists in the project are determined not to stop until they have published the genomes of all bird species on Earth.

This diversity is amazing. There are flightless birds like emus, kiwis, and penguins. Some birds are carnivores, and others are herbivores. Other birds have very limited and specialized diets. Some have wide ranges, and others, such as the Henderson crake, are found only on one island in the South Pacific. The most practical aspect of this study is learning how to protect bird species to preserve diversity. All creatures on Earth have properties important to humans, so this research is critical.

God didn’t create 10,000 species of birds independently of one another. He created “fowl,” and the Bible mentions several different species. The bird genomes allowed them to adapt to different environments. Those environments could support other forms of life only because birds supply nutrients and resources that make life possible. Bird migrations can provide the needs for environments thousands of miles apart. The Arctic tern and the bar-tailed godwit are excellent examples of that. Birds not only supply the needs of plants, but their eggs provide food for a variety of animals.

God has used diversity to supply the entire planet with life. Romans 1: 20 tells us that we can know there is a God by the things He has made. We see incredible wisdom and design built into God’s diversity of birds.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

You can find the article in Science News HERE and the research report in Nature HERE.

Relationship Between Fruits and Birds

Relationship Between Fruits and Birds demonstrated in Viburnum tinus fruits
Viburnum tinus Fruit

There is an essential relationship between fruits and birds. We all know that birds eat fruits, but we may not be aware of the system’s complexity and how it varies from place to place.

Here in Michigan, we struggle with poison ivy, and I am very sensitive to it. When I moved into my present house, the property was covered with a great deal of poison ivy. I spent most of our first summer eradicating it. The following spring, I found new poison ivy plants coming up in places where there were none the year before. One of my biology teacher friends informed me that birds eat the berries of poison ivy, and they plant many of the seeds resulting in a new crop. That makes it hard to eradicate.

An August 17, 2020, report by the National Science Foundation told about a study of an evergreen shrub found in the U.K. and most of Europe. This plant, called Viburnum tinus, stores fat in the cells of its fruit, making it an ideal food for birds’ survival success. The fruit also contains a large number of seeds. The fat, or lipids, in the fruit’s cells, give it structural color, making it a very bright blue. Structural color is not made from pigments, but it is produced by internal cell structures interacting with light. The feathers of many birds, including peacocks, and the wings of butterflies have structural color, but it is very rare in plants.

Miranda Sinnot-Armstrong of Yale University says that they used electron microscopy to study the Viburnum tinus fruits’ cell walls. She said they “found a structure unlike anything we’d ever seen before: layer after layer of small lipid droplets.” Because of the lipids, these plants supply the fats that birds need. Their shiny metallic color signals the birds to lead them to this nutritive source.

The more we study the natural world around us, the more we see incredibly complex structures to allow life to exist. This is not an accident but a complex set of systems to provide diversity in the natural world. The relationship between fruits and birds is designed to give the birds a way to find nourishment and to support their food sources in a symbiotic relationship. It’s another example of God’s design for life.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Birds Can Predict Typhoons

Birds Can Predict Typhoons
Black-naped Tern

A recent report says that birds can predict typhoons. The Yamashina Institute for Ornithology published the results in Marine Biology, showing evidence that black-naped terns can predict typhoons and use that information to facilitate their migration.

Researchers attached tracking devices to the terns and studied how their migration departure varied with the presence of these huge storms. The birds would delay their departure when a massive typhoon was about to cross their projected path. Jean-Baptiste Thiebot, the lead author of the study, said, “They seem to be able to predict it.”

This ability gives the terns several advantages.
Avoiding extreme winds and rain is a good thing. Besides that, the storms churn up food to the ocean surface allowing the terns to stop periodically to eat on their journey. In 2017, when there were no typhoons in the study area, the birds delayed their trip much later and flew the journey without a stop.

Scientists are still studying how these birds can predict typhoons.
Some research suggests that they are equipped with infrasonic detectors that pick up weather signals. Researchers are also looking at the tern’s ability to recognize changing clouds.

In any case, it seems the birds are designed with an ability to use weather to facilitate their migration. Robert Gill, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, says, “They are able to predict better than the best weather forecasters we have.”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Scientific American, October 2020, page 24.