July 1997: Page 1, 2, 3, 4

Submitters Perspective

Page 3

Birds (Part II)

The Mystery Of Migration

Have they not seen the birds above them lined up in columns and spreading their wings? The Most Gracious is the One who holds them in the air. He is Seer of all things. (67:19)

Certainly of all things about birds, one of the most incredible is migration. In ancient times, all kinds of strange explanations were advanced to explain why certain birds disappeared in certain seasons. It was believed swallows spent the winter sleeping at the bottom of lakes. Aristotle announced that the European robin changed into another bird, the European redstart, at the approach of summer, and then presumably back into a robin. The Romans generally agreed, but claimed swallows turned into frogs. In 1703 an Englishman wrote that birds flew to the moon taking 60 days to get there and then on arrival finding no nourishment went into hibernation.

We now know that when birds disappear from one location it is because they migrate. We know when they go, which birds go where, over what route. Some are truly incredible journeys. The sandpiper goes from Canada to Tierro del Fuego. The golden plover travels from the arctic to the pampas of Argentina. Some barn swallows go 9000 miles from Alaska to Patagonia. Scandinavian swallows end up at the southern tip of Africa. Little warblers weighing less than an ounce take solitary night journeys from Germany to central Africa. The arctic tern is the champion long distance flyer, going between 10 and 14 thousand miles in its migration, breeding at the North Pole and wintering in Antarctica.

Those are the things we know. What still baffles scientists is the how. What prompts them to start when they start and to return when they return? And how do they find their way? For each new theory advanced, tests were

performed which disproved it. Do they use landmarks? A species of stork when migrating south through the North American plains makes an abrupt turn to the west at approximately Great Falls, Montana to cross the Rockies. But it couldn’t be landmarks, because birds cross vast stretches of ocean to remote islands. The golden plover travels over 2000 miles from Alaska to Hawaii over open seas. Some curlews go 6000 miles from Alaska to Tahiti with no landmarks to follow.

Birds use the position of the sun. Experiments with birds in cages showed that they would orient themselves to the sun and become confused by mirrors changing the sun’s position. Yet many species of birds migrate by night. They then must use the stars. But while it’s true that birds rarely start out on a cloudy night, they will continue their migration even if clouds obscure the stars.

It is generally acknowledged now that all these factors apply. Birds do use the sun by day and the stars at night and also the earth’s magnetic field, perhaps also wind currents, landmarks and deep ocean sound vibrations. How they use these things remains a puzzle.

And how do they know where to go? In an experiment a bird was carried from its burrow in Wales to Boston, Mass. and released. Within two weeks, it was back in its burrow, 3000 miles across the Atlantic, totally unfamiliar territory. The bronze cuckoo of New Zealand is raised by foster parents who do not migrate, yet the young cuckoo migrates over 2500 miles of open ocean to the Solomon Islands for its first winter.

They must carry within them a “map,” which shows them instinctively the route and the destination. And they must also have within them an internal clock that tells them when to leave. The swallows return to Capistrano on the

same day each year and the vultures to Hinkley, Ohio (so man can marvel and turn it into an event.)

Migration is an amazing phenomenon. It’s a difficult journey and many perish, providing food supplies for other animals along the migration route. A Mediterranean falcon lays its eggs later in the season than any other bird so it can feed its young off the migration of other birds.

To help conserve energy and insure that the most individuals complete the trip many birds fly in formation. The beautiful V-shape of the Canada goose and others is the most efficient use of drafting. It saves a lot of energy for the whole flock, each bird able to rest on the air currents created. Who teaches them that?

Do you not realize that everyone in the heavens and the earth glorifies God, even the birds as they fly in a column? Each knows its prayer and its glorification. God is fully aware of everything they do. (24:41)

While the ornithologists and scientists struggle and experiment and test out theories, we know the truth. A bird flies because God is the One who holds it in the air. It migrates along mysterious routes because it follows God’s plan. Its flight is part of its glorification of its Creator.

The robin doesn’t wish it were an eagle. The crow doesn’t care that he’s not colorful like the cardinal. The hummingbird doesn’t want to try fish for change like the duck.

That’s a lesson for us. A sign for people who understand and take heed. Our job is to worship God alone. If we can do that job even a fraction as well as birds do their jobs, we might just be fortunate enough to fly with them in heaven.

Lydia Kelley