The Wonder of Bird Migration
Article and photograph by D.W. Cloud
Bird migration is one of the incalculable wonders of creation. The incentive and ability to migrate long distances is obviously built into the creature’s genetic code. It cannot be explained by “natural selection” or mutations.
Evolutionists theorize that birds developed migration during the ice age. “[A]s the great ice sheets retreated from North America, they gradually expanded their ranges to exploit rich temperate food resources and nesting space” (“Migration Basics,” hummingbird.net).
This explains nothing, really. It doesn’t explain why the birds would continue to migrate when they could easily stay in one place. It doesn’t explain how the birds can navigate thousands of miles across the globe to precise locations, how they developed the complex physiological changes that prepare them for long-distance migrations, how they can achieve the precise timings that allow them to arrive at breeding grounds at just the right time for breeding, etc., how they can survive the harsh conditions through which they often migrate, how the Alaskan Bar-Tailed Godwit can fly 9,000 miles non-stop, how the baby cuckoo can hatch and then fly 12,000 miles to join its parents in a place it has never been, etc.
The ice age “theory” is another “just so” story that is not proven and explains nothing.
The rapid advance in micro-technology and satellite communication since about 2010 has led to a revolution in our knowledge of the migratory habits of birds. Researchers are tagging them with geolocators weighing one-fifth of an ounce that transmit packets of information to satellites.
The bird migration award goes to the Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea), which spends the summer in the Arctic rearing its young, then flies the entire length of the earth to the Antarctic for its winter holiday. It makes this trip annually, and with the recent advance in micro-electronics, researchers have been able to learn much more about the migration habits of this amazing bird. Previously, it was thought that the tern traveled about 20,000 miles on its journey, but actually it travels an average of 44,000 miles. Terns that breed in northern Netherlands travel 56,000 miles! Over a lifetime of 30 years, the little 3.5-ounce tern will travel roughly 1.3 MILLION miles. The terns fly from the Greenland Sea in the north Atlantic down the coast of Africa. Before they reach central Africa, the terns split into two groups, some continuing down the African coast and across the southern Atlantic Ocean to the Antarctic, others flying across the Atlantic from Africa to South America, then proceeding down the coast of South America to the Weddell Sea and the Antarctic. On the return trip north, the terns do not follow the same path. Instead, they fly a “twisted S shaped pattern” across the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers have discovered that though this adds many miles to the trip, “the birds are taking advantage of the global wind system” and “thus actually use less energy thanks to the wind currents” (Savannah Humes, “The 3.5 Ounce Bird,” TodayIFoundOut.com). Do evolutionists really think that birds are this smart? The birds return to the same place and the same colony where they hatched. Though the terns are not sexually mature until three or four years old, the junior birds complete the annual migration nonetheless.
The ability to travel the full length of the globe is so amazingly complex that it requires an Intelligent Designer. “If the Arctic tern uses the stars to navigate, then it must recognize stars in both hemispheres. If the bird uses the earth’s magnetic field, then it must know the difference between the south magnetic pole and the north magnetic pole!” (Stuart Burgess, Hallmarks of Design, p. 42).
The Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) is a close second in distance migration. It travels up to 40,000 miles, covering 300 miles a day. It travels from the Faukland Islands off the east coast of the tip of South America to the Arctic Ocean.
The Alaskan Bar-Tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) is another super migrator. Unlike the tern and many other migrators, this bird makes its 7,000-mile, nine-day journey NON-STOP, without landing for rest, food, or water. One Bar-Tailed Godwit that was tracked with a satellite tag flew 6,800 miles from Alaska to New Zealand non-stop in an eight-day flight (www.plosbiology.org). “The godwits gorge themselves on shellfish, until the fat builds up into thick rolls under their skin--up to 55% of their total weight. Then they stop eating and their intestines, kidneys and liver shrivel up to a fraction of their usual size, eliminating unnecessary weight” (Jonathan Sarfati, By Design, p. 88).
The distance record holder among song birds is the Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe). This tiny bird, weighing from .5 to 1.2 ounces, flies about 18,000 miles annually, from northern and central Asia, northern Europe, and Greenland to Sub-saharan Africa, crossing ocean, ice, and desert. Tagged Northern Wheatears have flown from Alaska across Siberia, Russia, Turkey, the Arabian Desert, to central Africa.
The whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) migrates 3,500 miles non-stop from the Southampton Island in Canada’s Arctic to the mouth of the Amazon River in Brazil. One whimbrel that was tagged with a radio transmitter flew through Hurricane Irene when it was a category 3 storm and not only did the bird survive, it was able to make the necessary correction after being blown off course and complete its migration successfully (“Bird Migrates through Hurricane Irene,” USA Today, August 28, 2011).
The Bar-headed goose (Anser indicus) probably wins the extreme migration award. It migrates from Tibet to India, crossing the Himalayan Mountains to a height of four miles where there is little oxygen, subzero temperatures, and the winds can blow with hurricane fury. A 2011 study tracked the geese flying at 21,000 feet. “Way up in the Himalayas, where thin air and low oxygen pressure hinder speech and movement, weary mountaineers have observed bar-headed geese honking away as they ascend powerfully overhead” (The Most Extreme Migration on Earth?” Sciencemag.org, June 7, 2011). Tagged geese have made the journey from India to Tibet in seven or eight hours, flying at 39 MPH (64 KPH). The southbound trip is made in about 4.5 hours. These geese have proportionally bigger lungs and better supply of oxygen to the muscles and heart than many other birds (Ibid.).
The Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialias fulva) migrates from the Arctic tundra in Alaska and northern Canada to Hawaii, Marshall, Fiji, and other South Pacific islands, unerringly finding a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean after a journey of thousands of miles. Those that migrate from Alaska to Hawaii make the 3,000-mile journey in four to five days, averaging 39 miles per hour. The ground speed of some plovers in migration with strong tailwinds has been tracked at 103 to 114 MPH (167-185 KPH) (“Plovers Tracked across the Ocean,” Phys.org, June 13, 2011). Researches using geolocators have found that the birds return to the same location each year. Professor Wally Johnson of Montana State University says, “They’re so strongly site-faithful that we can predict where they will be with almost 100 per cent accuracy” (Ibid.).
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) migrates from northern North America to southern Mexico. On one part of this journey, some of the tiny birds fly across the Gulf of Mexico (while others fly around the southern part of Texas). The Gulf jumpers fly 450-500 miles in 18-22 hours, often against headwinds of 20 miles per hour and more, beating their tiny wings nearly 3 million times on that amazing journey. Some rest on offshore oil rigs and fishing boats, but others make the journey non-stop. The tiny bird flies from the coast of Yucatan in southern Mexico to Texas and Florida. In preparation for the journey, it gorges itself with insects and spiders, adding a thick layer of fat that nearly doubles its weight to six grams. If a larger bird gained the equivalent of this much weight, it wouldn’t be able to fly. The males and females do not migrate at the same time, with the females leaving Mexico about ten days after the males. Once arriving in America, the hummingbird’s migration continues north at a rate of about 20 miles per day, as the bird follows the northern spread of spring vegetation. In late spring, the globe-hopping hummingbird arrives back in the place where it hatched. Some other Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate from Alaska and cross the desolate Mojave Desert. The birds know how to use the winds to their advantage. “Researchers in the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania found that hummingbirds will migrate in larger numbers when the winds were blowing in the direction they wished to go, and even more so when the winds were strong” (“Hummingbird Migration,” worldofhummingbirds.com).
Cuckoo birds lay their eggs in the nest of another type of bird in England and Europe, then fly 12,000 miles to Africa, crossing the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert in the process. After the baby cuckoo hatches and is raised by an adopted parent, it flies 12,000 miles to join the parents it has never seen at a place it has never been (Richard Milton, Shattering the Myths of Darwinism, p. 249). One cuckoo that was tagged with a solar-powered satellite tracking device in 2011 flew 45,000 miles in three years, migrating from England to Angola. The birds usually spend only a few weeks in Africa before heading north again.
The Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), a seabird that nests around Great Britain and Ireland, migrates over 6,200 miles *(10,000 kilometers) to South America in winter. One bird that was tagged in 1957 and still breeding on Bardsey Island off Wales in 2002 has been estimated to have flown five million miles (eight million km.) in its lifetime. A Manx Shearwater was taken to Boston, tagged, and released, and in 12 days it returned to its nest off Wales 3,200 miles away (A Closer Look at the Evidence, May 6).
The common swift (Apus apus) migrates at night up, flying at up to 10,000 feet high and sleeping during flight. One tagged common swift flew more than 3,100 miles from Africa to the United Kingdom in five days. It maintained an average of 25 miles per hour. Its round-trip migration totaled 12,400 miles. The swift spends most of its life on the wing, eating, sleeping, and mating in flight. Its Latin name is from the Greek word apous, meaning “without feet,” which refers to the fact that it has short legs that are used only for clinging to vertical surfaces. Johan Backman, who has studied swift flight with radar, says, “We found that swifts have an extraordinary ability to perform orientations in relation to wind. Even the most advanced planes, with good navigational instruments, would probably be unable to judge the wind drift like this. The remarkable thing is that they do all this while flying through the night and sleeping on the wing at these very high altitudes” (“How the Swift Keeps to Its Course,” Sunday Telegraph, March 14, 2004, cited from Jonathan Sarfati, By Design, p. 91).
Evolution did not produce bird migration. It is another irrefutable evidence for the existence of an Almighty God who loves beauty and variety and who filled the world with wonder for man’s instruction and delight.
“Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness” (Psalm 150:1-2).