Okay, a trivia question for you: “What is the official (national) bird of Norway? For us in the United States, it is, of course, not the wild turkey as Benjamin Franklin proposed, but the majestic Bald Eagle. For Norway, it is a very ordinary bird that behaves in very extraordinary ways, the white-throated dipper. Our version in North America is the American dipper, a slate-gray robin-sized bird that resembles an overgrown version of its cousin the wren, with its stubby tail that sticks upward.
The dipper is the only perching bird that is exclusively aquatic. You would expect to see it perching in tree in your backyard or the forest, but instead, you will spot it along the shores of a fast-moving stream. If you’ve ever been to Glacier Park and sat along one of the many frigid streams of ice-cold water, you have probably spotted a little bird that sits along the shore pumping its body up and down by squatting and standing up some 40-60 times per minute, and then suddenly flitting from rock to rock and at some point disappearing into the turbulent, icy water for minutes at a time (It can hold its breath for ten minutes!). If you can keep an eye on the dipper you will see it literally walking on the slippery rocks on the bottom of the stream in search of food and then probably see it “flying” through the water upstream as it uses its wings like a penguin does to propel itself through the water and use the current to force its buoyant little body to stay under water. At times the bird vigorously “rows” its sturdy wings like oars to resist the current in order to steady its position.
To all appearances this little perching bird has no special features to enable its exuberant activity by and in a fast-moving, icy stream of fresh water, often just having melted from a glacier or snow bank. But it moves in and out of the water easily, and effectively navigates the streams in spite of its physical limitations. And to go with this unusual activity is the fact that the dipper constantly has a song to sing. Adverse weather seems not to affect it in the least. Despite the dipper’s physical limitations (it is definitely not built like a duck!), the dipper joyfully and energetically goes about its search for underwater larvae and other edible morsels, all the time with a cheery song.
Amazing! How does the dipper know to perform these underwater behaviors? An un-programmed or otherwise undirected “trial and error” process (which evolution would require) isn’t an adequate explanation because failures equal drowning! And a drowned dipper wouldn’t get a second chance to evolve such underwater survival skills! Dippers, like other birds, need providential programming in place to fill their special niches in the life God planned for them.
God did design the dipper some special features which enable it to perform such amazing activity in the icy, turbulent streams. God made its plumage very dense. Its protective covering of feathers is thicker than either of its relatives the wren or thrush. The ends of the feathers are more loosely formed to prevent them from soaking up water. God also designed the dipper with a large oil gland at the base of its tail with which it waterproofs its feathers. Our amazing Creator also gave the dipper three eyelids for its rather small eyes, one of the eyelids cleans and wipes the cornea like a windshield wiper, keeping it clear of water and making it appear that the dipper is always blinking. Also, on its nose are two flaps which close off each nostral and prevent water from entering when the bird submerges (not even ducks have this feature). The dipper can also decrease its heart rate by 55-65% and increase the amount of oxygen stored in its blood, for its prolonged foraging trips under water. The dipper doesn’t have webbed feet (like a duck) or toes (like a coot), but does have extra-long strong toes for gripping the slipper rocks and for pushing itself up stream.
The slate-gray color of our American dipper helps it blend in to the rocks and logs along the stream. Its nest (constructed mainly by the female), looks like a round ball about a foot in diameter and covered with live, green moss, which the dipper waters by standing on its nest and shaking off the water from its feathers. The nest is built by rocks or logs or often behind a waterfall!
What a strange, amazing bird! God equipped this bird with the remarkable skills it needs to get its food in a harsh, frigid environment, all the while seeming to maintain a spirit of joyfulness, despite its apparent physical limitations. Talk about “Providential Programming!”
It seems that we too often find ourselves to be inadequate for the harsh circumstances in which we find ourselves, but God has equipped us to by giving us the Holy Spirit and Christ living in us to deal with anything that comes our way and, if we trust in Him and not our own wisdom and strength, we “can do all things through Him who strengthens us” (Phil. 4:13). And we can do it cheerfully, in spite of our human limitations. Earlier in the same chapter of Philippians, Paul wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4).
Hopefully you live near a stream where you can go and observe these amazing little exuberant, cheerful creatures that God made, the dipper, and “let them tell you” of the goodness of God (cf Job 12:7,8).