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
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.