While we were out looking for a Christmas tree a week ago, we heard some faint “honking” above us and looked up to faintly see a flock of probably 30-40 geese heading south for the winter, flying about a mile above us in order to clear the Cabinet Mountains with peaks around 8,500 feet in elevation. Canada geese, in their iconic V-formations, can fly an astonishing 1500 miles in just 24 hours, providing they have a tailwind and not a headwind. They normally average about 40 mph but with a headwind, can reach speeds up to 70 mph. They migrate from the northern regions of North America to temperate areas of the southern states or into Mexico. They fly in V-formation to conserve energy (approximately 23%). The goose in front expends the most energy, splitting the air currents as it flies. When it tires, it drops to the rear of the formation and the next goose in line takes over. After wintering in the south, they will return in early spring to the same nesting site each year, a trip that averages 7-10 days.
So what’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled during a single trip? For some, the answer will be a few thousand miles–maybe across the country, or possibly across the ocean to another country. For some it might be from the couch to the refrigerator! But, regardless of the answer, our travels pale in comparison to the migration of some birds. A few species remain in place year-round, but many undertake incredibly long journeys to reach their breeding grounds or for their winter get-away. Some species circumvent the globe by the time they’re done–and repeat that each year!
The bar-tailed godwit (a shore bird) makes the longest non-stop flight of any bird–up to 7,500 miles, with a total round trip each year of about 18,000 miles! The sooty shearwater (another shore bird) travels about 40,000 miles per year! But one bird has them all beat, hands down, and that is the Arctic tern, which travels from pole-to-pole, covering up to 60,000 miles a year. They have a lifespan of up to 30 years, so some may travel up to 1.5 million miles in their lifetime–the same as flying to the Moon and back three times!
One of the most amazing migration “miracles” is demonstrated for us by the dove-sized golden plover which is born in Alaska and winters in Hawaii. When the young are just three months old, their parents leave them and return to Hawaii. The young golden plovers, over the next weeks eat voraciously, increasing their body weight by 50% so they will have enough “fuel” for the 2,800 mile non-stop flight to Hawaii. Together the young take off for Hawaii, flying as the geese, in V-formation to conserve energy. Their trip takes about 88 hours over open water without a break, flapping their wings about 250,000 times. (Imagine doing 250,000 push ups!). So, how did they know to put on that extra weight for their trip and who told them to go to Hawaii or even what direction to fly? They had never been there before and there aren’t any orientation points along the way and they have to fly through all sorts of weather conditions and in the darkness of four nights. Yet they make it to their destination and are reunited with their parents. How do they possibly do it? Evolution has no answers! You see their all-wise, all-powerful, Design Engineer, the Lord Jesus Christ who created them, pre-programmed them with the coordinates of the destination and gave them a built-in auto pilot which continuously monitors their course position, making corrections as needed.
It is not by chance that the young golden plovers put on the extra weight. It is not a coincidence that one day they decide to go on a trip to Hawaii, let alone know what direction to fly or how to stay on course. Just think, the slightest deviation from their programmed course would mean disaster. To fly the 2,800 miles in 88 hours, the plover has to cruise at 32 mph which scientists have discovered is the optimal speed in order to not use up their fuel before they arrive at their destination. (From If Animals Could Talk by Dr. Werner Gitt).
And then, to add to the wonder of God’s amazing designs, we have high-flying birds that migrate at high, oxygen-thin, altitudes. If you’re a mountain climber, and you have just scaled the highest peak in the world–Mount Everest–the air is so thin (about 1/4 the oxygen content as at sea level), you need an oxygen tank to breathe. But suddenly you hear a honking–and a flock of bar-headed geese fly over your head on their annual migration from Central Asia to northern Burma for winter. God’s construction of the bar-headed goose includes larger-than-normal wings, lungs that inhale greater-than-normal amounts of air, and blood containing a special type of hemoglobin that carries higher-than-normal levels of oxygen to its tissues and organs. God also designed this bird to produce a lot of heat when it flies, preventing ice from forming on the bird’s wings.
All these examples from God’s creation show us in a visible way that Christ can, and will sustain His creatures through all difficulties. God shines His glory in the farthest reaches of the earth–even where life’s presence seems utterly impossible. If God equips and provides for birds in such an amazing way, surely He will do the same for us who are the “crown of His creation.” “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars (and the migratory birds!), which You have set in place; what is man, that You are mindful of him? And the son of man, that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned him with glory and honor! You made him ruler over the works of Your hands; You put everything under his feet.” (Psa. 8:3-6).
Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air and how the heavenly Father cares for them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (My paraphrase of Mt. 6:26). Job 12:7 says, “But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them teach you.” The next time you see a flock of ducks or geese flying overhead, migrating to their winter home, be reminded how much God cares for His creatures–especially for you!