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