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Creation  Volume 16Issue 3 Cover

Creation 16(3):10–14
June 1994

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Flight: The genius of birds


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Editor’s note: As Creation magazine has been continuously published since 1978, we are publishing some of the articles from the archives for historical interest, such as this. For teaching and sharing purposes, readers are advised to supplement these historic articles with more up-to-date ones suggested in the Related Articles and Further Reading below.

Created to fly!

Birds can fly, why can’t I?

by Robert Doolan

bird diagram
The amazingly created bird.

If an award were given to the bird with the most clumsy landing, there is little doubt which bird would win—the gooney bird. In the sky this bird is powerful and beautifully graceful. By skilful use of wind currents, it can glide over the ocean for hours without even a flap of its wings. But it often makes the proverbial three-point landing—two legs down and flat on its face! It has earned the nickname ‘gooney bird’ partly because of its clumsy landings.

If landing is not the strong point of this bird—properly known as the albatross—flying certainly is. With a wingspan that may reach three metres (11 feet), the albatross can spend months flying enormous distances over the seas. It sometimes may not touch land more than a few times in four or five years. It sleeps on the surface of the ocean, it drinks sea water, and it feeds on small marine creatures and garbage thrown from ships.

Mariners have long been fascinated by the ability of some species of albatross to zigzag across a strong headwind. These graceful birds will soar and glide above a ship for days, diving steeply into the water to claim refuse from its wake. The albatross is perfectly designed for flight.

No evidence that birds evolved

For a flying bird to have evolved from a non-flying reptile, as the evolution theory proposes, almost every structure in the non-flying animal would require change. There is no living or fossil evidence for this, and there is much against it.

Consider yourself. It is claimed that you have evolved from the same ancestor as birds did long ago, but clearly, you can’t fly.

Down through the centuries people have sought ways to fly. Many imaginative flapping devices, such as light feathered boards tied to someone’s arms, have quickly brought their inventors back to earth. ‘Why’, the astonished flappers ask, ‘can’t humans fly?’

Seeking an answer, some people have compared the bones in a bird’s wing with those in their own arm. There is obvious similarity in design. Yet there is also an important difference: the wing was designed to fly, the human arm was not.

Even if you could cover your arms with feathers, you still couldn’t fly. Your arm bones, you see, may look like those in a bird’s wing, but they can never serve the same flight function.

To be aerodynamically successful, your skeleton would need to be strong, but light. A bird’s bones are virtually hollow, like strands of macaroni or straw. They are supported inside by struts and are honeycombed with air sacs. These lightweight bones of a bird are designed so well for flight that the bird’s feathers usually weigh more than its whole skeleton!

Our human bones are not like this. They are too heavy. Why? Because they are designed to support the weight of our body when standing, walking, running, and so on. To be able to fly you would need enormous wings. But how could you flap such wings? Your muscles would tire too easily. Birds have two strong sets of breast muscles—a large set to control the wings’ downstrokes, and a smaller set to control the upstrokes.

Even a bird’s beak is designed to save weight, so as not to hinder it in the air. Unlike the human jaw, which is made of heavy bone, a bird’s beak is made of lightweight horn. This is another feature that shows perfect planning in the creation of birds.

But let’s suppose you somehow had wings of the required length. Let’s say you even had those amazing muscles to flap them. You still couldn’t fly like a bird! You don’t have airfilled bags in your body like those that lie between the bird’s heart, lungs, stomach, and other organs. The bird’s air-sacs are connected to its lungs, and during flight air flows through them. This arrangement rapidly feeds the bird’s body tissues with life-supporting oxygen while keeping it light in the air.

Astonishing flight skills

Just as the albatross might win the title for the most exquisite soaring skills, there is one bird that would probably win the title of master of manoeuvrability. The tiny hummingbird can hover, stop dead in midflight, make sharp turns, and even fly backwards! How does it do this? Such astonishing skills are possible by a swivel-like action of the hummingbird’s wings, which are powered by strong muscles which make up about 30 per cent of the bird’s weight.

All hummingbirds are small, with a long slender bill. The smallest is the bee hummingbird, which is not much bigger than a bumblebee. Twenty of these hummingbirds could sit together comfortably on the page you are now reading.

A hummingbird may visit up to 2,000 flowers a day to briefly sip the high-energy sugars it needs to fuel its spectacular flying abilities. It will hover in front of a flower, beating its wings an incredible 60 to 90 times a second. Such rapid wing beats create a humming sound, which is how the hummingbird got its name. A hummingbird on the ground is not able to walk. Its legs are small and weak. But the hummingbird has little need to walk on the ground—it is designed for skilful manoeuvring in the air.

Created flight, patterns

Birds display a wide range of patterns in flight. Swifts and swallows use a fast, gliding motion. Ducks and geese have sustained, powerful flight. Birds of prey such as eagles and falcons usually catch their targets by swooping from high in the sky, capturing their victims after a swift dive—which may reach speeds of 250 kilometres an hour (165 mph). As the bird swoops to the ground, it spreads its powerful wings to act as a brake.

There is no evidence that these abilities have evolved, or even that the differing patterns of flight have come from one original pattern.

The one thing which all birds have been created with, and which you will have noticed no other creature has, is feathers. Feathers insulate the bird from the sun’s heat. They also protect it from the cold. They prevent the bird from getting too wet, and form an important part of the wings so necessary for flying. Tail feathers help the bird balance in the air, steer its flight, and act as a brake when it is slowing down to land.

A bird must keep its feathers in good working order. It does this by preening—running its feathers through its beak—which cleans any feathers that have become untidy. In this process the bird oils its feathers by pressing its beak on an oil gland near the base of its tail.

A remarkable cleaning process used by some birds, such as jays, is called ‘anting’. The birds sit on the ground with their wings outstretched, and encourage ants to crawl all over them. The jays twitch in apparent delight as the ants crawl through their feathers. It is thought that the ants’ powerful formic acid secretions help remove parasites which cling to the birds’ feathers and skin in large numbers.

So there are many obvious reasons why birds can fly and you cannot. Birds have a lightweight skeleton; your body is too heavy. Flying birds have strong sets of muscles to carefully control their flight; your muscles tire too easily. Birds have air-sacs, light beaks, small lungs, and wings designed for flying; your body is simply shaped all wrong for flight.

It is clear that there is one overall reason why birds have always been able to fly, and why man’s attempts have taken off only with the invention of flying planes. What is it? The birds got off to a flying start at the time of their creation (Genesis 1:20–21). Flight, like birds, could not, and did not, evolve. It was created intact in the beginning.

Wikipedia.org arctic-tern
Terns nest once every one to three years.

The amazing Arctic tern

The amazing Arctic Tern is a bird that knows how to travel. It makes the longest known migration of any creature on earth. Each year Arctic Terns travel from the top of the world to the bottom, then they fly back again! This round trip from near the North Pole to the South Pole is a staggering 35,000 kilometres (22,000 miles) every year!

These graceful birds spend their whole lives enjoying daylight. They breed in the almost constant sunshine of the Arctic summer, in areas such as Greenland and Iceland, then fly south with the sun to land and feed not far from the South Pole, when the sun barely dips below the horizon. Driven by westerly Antarctic gales, the Arctic Terns may then circle the entire Antarctic continent before heading back north along the African coast up to their breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle.

And these terns travel quickly. One was banded in Northumberland, England, on June 25, 1982. It was caught just 115 days later in Melbourne, Australia, which is 17,600 km (11,000 miles) away. This means the bird averaged 153 km (almost 100 miles) a day!

The energy spent by these birds on their journey from pole to pole is enormous. But there are clear rewards. As they reach the end of each trip, they are able to tap a rich food supply that exists for only half the year. But how do the Arctic Terns know such sources exist so far apart? Banding experiments have revealed that the birds which nest the furthest north are the ones which end up furthest south. They even fly across the Atlantic Ocean for almost 3,000 km (about 1860 miles) with no land to guide them.

The origin of such bird and animal migration is a mystery as far as the theory of evolution is concerned. How could instincts possibly evolve? How could the Arctic Tern know its food supply exists all year round if it flies to the other end of the earth? Its incredible navigational abilities would need to develop along with the instinct to migrate. Both are useless if not perfect.

Such amazing features can only be explained satisfactorily by realising that the God who created all the birds and animals was the God who provided their unique abilities. Arctic Terns do not need to be told where to go or how to get there. Their Creator made sure this vital information was inbuilt in their design when He created them.

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Readers’ comments
Scott J., United States, 4 March 2015

Great article. When one looks at macrostructures, it is not reasonable to think of this evolving much less to get into the biochemistry that composes each structure, the DNA which leads to the biochemicals forming, eggs vs live birth (the airsac and development, temperatures, child rearing on top of many others), etc. The navy spent many dollars, much time, and numerous lives were lost trying to figure out how to get planes to land on a carrier and to train people how to do this feat. Birds get one try and have to know things like how not to go out too far that you have no fuel to return, how to judge aircurrents, how to raise young, how to migrate (sometimes with no parent when they hatch). Any of these are too far to imagine a mechanism that would allow that to evolve. How about the eyesight of an eagle that lets them spot a mouse, dive from high altitudes, stop just a hair short of the ground to grab an object or just below the surface of the water to grab a fish, all without crashing. How about a mating tango of the male/female eagle without crashing? Your article on the Golden Plover and seeing how there is no guidance, no room for error, no loner birds would survive, etc. alone is enough to stymie most people.

Les G., South Africa, 4 March 2015

There is one kind of flight that has evolved through man's sinfulness - the flights of fancy that imagine a dinosaur (for example) could, given enough time, have its skeletal structure so drastically altered as to allow it to become, let us say, a hummingbird. The absurdity is truly astounding!

Terry P., Australia, 3 March 2015

And God created sea creatures and every kind of bird on the fifth day, before he created reptiles etc. on the sixth day.

Those who imagine that God used evolution to create birds from reptiles are contradicting God's Word.

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