King of Saxony Bird-of-Paradise

 King of Saxony Bird-of-Paradise
King of Saxony Bird-of-Paradise

Saxony is an area of Germany that hasn’t had a king since 1918. However, in the mountain forests of New Guinea, a bird has borne the name King of Saxony since 1894. It’s the King of Saxony bird-of-paradise (Pteridophora alberti).

The males display beautiful black and yellow colors. They also have two blue brow plumes attached to their heads that can be twice the length of the bird’s body. These birds are so strange-looking that when Europeans one for the first time, they thought it was a fake. Native people hunt the male birds for their prized plumes for ceremonial purposes. However, the King of Saxony bird-of-paradise is not easy to catch. 

Adult males are highly territorial, guarding their domain while perched high in the tree canopy. Their unique courtship behavior consists of two parts. The first step is sitting on a bare branch and attracting females by singing a hissing rattling sound. It accompanies those noises by waving the long plumes independently or in unison. Next, if a female shows interest, the male will fly down to a lower branch to entice her. Then, the male will bounce up and down in front of the female while giving a hissing call. People find the entire ritual very entertaining.

Regardless of the threats they face from hunting, the King of Saxony bird-of-paradise is not endangered. That is beneficial for the ecology because these birds play a significant role in distributing fruit seeds on the island of New Guinea. Plants and fruits rely on animals to ensure their survival. In return, the plants produce fruit for the animals to eat in this marvelously complex system. Meanwhile, tourists to New Guinea enjoy these birds’ beauty and fascinating behavior. 

The King of Saxony bird-of-paradise is a prime example of how each animal is unique, and the Creator has given us many species to study, enjoy, and protect. The interlocking system of birds, other animals, and plants shows evidence of a Creator who is an architect and engineer who has an appreciation of beauty and a sense of humor.

— Roland Earnst © 2022
The Cornel Lab of Ornithology has a video showing the song and dance of these fascinating birds.

An Overlooked Role of Birds and Mammals

An Overlooked Role of Birds and Mammals

Various data sources show massive evidence of climate change. The melting of the ice sheets, the warming of the Pacific Ocean, and the increase of weather anomalies affect all of us. Some of these changes have to do with flooding and the frequency of storms. Others affect our food supply where there is an overlooked role of birds and mammals.

While the effect on human activity is pretty dramatic, the natural changes in living things in the environment are usually less noticeable. The reason is that the design of life anticipates that climate will change from time to time, even if humans have no role in that change. If a plant species faces environmental change threatening its existence, it will disperse its seeds into a different place where the environment is more suitable.

The often overlooked role of birds and mammals is that they are the primary agents for seed dispersal. The National Science Foundation helped fund a study showing that more than half of all plant species rely on animals to disperse their seeds. The NSF website said, “Plants that rely on seed dispersers can face extinction if there are too few animals to move their seeds far enough to keep pace with changing conditions.”

One of the things that plant-eating dinosaurs did was
to spread the seeds of the plants they ate. This means that pruning was not the only benefit of plant-eaters, but seed spreading was also significant. As the climate has changed in the past, animals have spread the seeds over a vast geographic area allowing the incredible diversity we see in plants today.

This kind of research has a variety of practical uses.
It reminds us of the overlooked role of birds and mammals in dispersing seeds in the environment. The study showed a 60% reduction due to the loss of seed-spreading birds and mammals.

We see evidence of God’s wisdom in designing birds and mammals with a diet that allows spreading the seeds of the plants they eat. That design helps to moderate the effect of climate change. God told Adam and Eve to take care of the Garden (Genesis 2:15), and we need to understand our responsibility in that. The fact that creation’s design allows life to survive climate changes is a testimony to God’s wisdom.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Science Foundation website and the journal Science

Mother Birds Sing to their Eggs

Mother Birds Sing to their Eggs

Recent studies have shown that mother birds sing to their eggs while incubating them. Researchers found that bird embryos learn to identify the sounds of their species before they hatch from the eggs. They also found that the singing is deliberate and serves a purpose.

The reason mother birds sing to their eggs can’t be for their survival, because singing puts the mothers at risk from predators. Then what is the advantage of the singing? In addition to learning the songs of their species, the young birds learn to recognize unfamiliar songs produced by other bird species. The mother’s singing also affects the heart rate of the unhatched bird. All of the eggs in the study of unhatched baby birds showed a decrease in the babies’ heart rate when their mothers sang to them.

Previous research has shown that the heart rate of unborn humans also slows when the mother is in a stable situation and increases when the mother is under stress. Similarly, the researchers speculate that the singing of the mother bird aids the survival of the chick. The research co-author said, “Birds are like humans in that there is a mother- or father-offspring communication even before birth.”

The message is clear that the individual begins life and learning before being put into the world of self-preservation and survival. Mother birds sing to their eggs, and human mothers sing and talk to their babies before birth. In both cases, the offspring benefit. Whether a bird or a human, individual existence begins when life begins–not when the egg hatches or the baby is born.

— John N. Clayton ©

Reference: Science News, November 6, 2021, page 4.

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.