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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Birds and Bees (Part 2)

Continuing from last week’s article where I referenced bees and their amazing abilities, I’ll be looking at birds in this article. Specifically two birds.

First, there’s the humming bird. These tiny little birds are what I call bee-birds. They have a very pointed beak which they use to extract nectar from flowers, just like bees. Unlike bees, however, they do not return to a hive where the nectar would be made into honey. But, like a bee they can stop in flight, hover, and even move backwards. Their wings flutter at an incredible rate, moving the whole wing as one unit, providing them with a furious humming sound. Some so-called experts on hummingbirds have described this method of flying as being “inefficient.” Someone should tell the hummingbird!

With something like 330 different species of hummingbirds (the second largest family of birds in the world), these amazing birds may be found in the New World from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. No hummingbirds are known to exist in Europe, Asia or Africa. Why? I suspect God has his reasons.

California boasts of 13 species of this bird, the most common being the Ruby-throated. Hummingbirds will migrate each year to Central America. Unlike Canadian Geese and other migratory birds, hummingbirds fly solo. The smallest of these birds is 2 grams and the largest is 20 grams. In preparation for their migration they will eat more food to put on an extra layer of fat! Now that’s funny!

Seriously, these little guys will travel thousands of miles from North America to winter over in Central America, and then the next year return to the exact site where they were born. They feed off of nectar which gives them the energy required to fly at such impossible speeds. Otherwise, they feast on tiny bugs and spiders, giving them the protein they need.

Who of us hasn’t sat and in awe of these little flying wonders? I bought a new hummingbird feeder for this spring. I look forward to simply watching the frenetic flying of these feathered friends.

Where did these birds learn to migrate? What internal clock tells them it’s time to go, even though it’s the middle of summer and there’s plenty of food, and the climate is perfect?

Then there’s my favorite bird of all – the loon. This is also a migratory bird. It has so many oddities about it that space does not allow me to adequately expand on this fascinating creature. But consider this: Loons summer on fresh-water lakes, and winter on the ocean or bays (salt-water). Loons mate for life and have one or two chicks a year, usually in late May. Their bodies are designed in such a way that their entire existence is on the water. Their webbed feet are located at the rear portion of their bodies, totally unlike the center-line design of every other water fowl. This makes it possible for the loon to propel himself across the surface of the water at amazing speeds which is essential for becoming airborne. A loon may require as much as a quarter of a mile of water where he races frantically in his attempt to fly the skies. These webbed feet also allow them to be strong swimmers, particularly under water. This also means it’s impossible for them to exist on land. They are incapable of walking.

But what really tickles me about loons is that they have solid bones. Every other species of flying bird has hollow bones – but not the loon. This makes them decidedly heavier. This also means that loons must flap their wings continuously; otherwise they would fall to the earth like mythological Icarus. Even though there are other birds with solid bones, they are incapable of flying.

One other thing the loon can do which clearly sets him apart from his feathered family is his ability to sink under water on command and remain there swimming great distances at ever increasing speed, popping up to the surface perhaps 100 yards or more from where he first went under. They do this by compressing their feathers, forcing the air caught in the layers to be pushed out which allows the body to literally drop straight under water. Every other water fowl dives head-first. Not the loon. He sinks.

I’m fascinated with our natural environment, which is stating the obvious after two weeks of describing the idiosyncrasies of birds and bees. These examples, of which I’ve only noted a few, make me laugh, while at the same time I scratch my head and ask, “Could this be an accident of nature? Or is there Someone Greater behind all of this who quite possibly delights in his own creativity, and who changed the norm, breaking the pattern, just because he wanted to? Or did he make such amazing creatures just to see our drop-jawed reaction as we discovered them?”

Then I pause and realize just how meaningful Jesus’ words are when he said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” And this verse, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your father. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Did you know you are that important to God? He delighted himself in making the bumblebee, the honeybee, the hummingbird, and the loon. But he loves you. That should put a smile on your face!

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