The seemingly effortless activity of a bird in flight fascinates us. From the graceful soaring of the larger birds to the darting antics of the smaller, we as creatures of the land stand in amazement. Pausing to listen to the movement of the air as a flock of geese flies directly overhead, we are reminded of their united efforts to reach their destination. Darting here and there in our backyard, two finches seemingly play tag. Hovering in midair next to the nectar feeder, the hummingbird takes a few sips and speedily takes off again. Soaring gracefully in the heavens an eagle immediately captures our attention. Scripture often references the eagle in regards to flight.Deuteronomy 28:49 and Jeremiah 4:13 speak of the swiftness of an eagle in flight. In Proverbs 30:18, 19the writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, speaks of the “way of an eagle in the air” as being “too wonderful for me.” Truly bird flight is an awe-inspiring creation of God.
Without a doubt, the ability of a bird to fly is to us a marvelous revelation of the beauty and wisdom of our God. We stand amazed at the ability of birds to perform their wide range of aeronautical feats—all of which are possible because of the intricate and wise design of the Creator. “Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom?” or “Doth the eagle mount up at thy command?” (Job 39:26, 27). Obviously God’s word to us is emphatically, “No”; for it occurs only by His wisdom and command. How foolish of man (and of our own sinful natures) to propose and believe that the many anatomical features of a bird that contribute to its ability to fly have evolved over time from some other anatomical feature of some ancient ancestor. Great will be the condemnation of those who have deliberately denied the wonders of God in the creation. We are humbled and truly thankful to God for calling us out of such folly and showing us His greatness. To God be all glory given.
Bird Anatomy—All for Flight!
Man recognizes the wealth of knowledge and power to be garnered from the creation and often mimics the creatures of God to further his technological advancement. (Incidentally, this is partly why man purposely attributes God’s wise designs in creation to some evolutionary process. By doing so, he deliberately directs all glory for the technological advancements to himself, rather than to God. For if there is no wise creator—only evolutionary processes—then there is none to whom credit is due other than man who aptly applied the designs of nature.)
This mimicking of creation was clearly evident in the development of modern aviation. Published over 120 years ago, Otto Lilienthal’s book, Bird Flight as a Basis for Aviation, was a key resource in leading Orville and Wilbur Wright to design and successfully fly the first engine-powered airplane. One of the key principles of flight is the principle of “lift”—a principle easily learned by a brief observation of birds. To fly, a bird must be able to exert an upward force greater than the downward force of gravity, and thus obtain “lift.” To accomplish such is no simple feat, as man quickly learned. Birds’ flying ability is a clear indication of the wisdom of our Creator. Our great God gave birds two particularly unique characteristics in order to fly—a light-weight body and a specially designed wing that promotes “lift.”
The downward force of gravity on an object is directly related to its mass. The greater the mass of an object, the greater the force of gravity that is upon that object. So the greater the mass, the harder it is to get that object off the ground and into the air. In order to fly, a bird must be able to overcome the force of gravity that acts on it. This requires an upward force greater than the downward force of gravity. This can be accomplished if the creature is strong enough and yet light enough to “lift” itself. Since it was God’s delight and law of life for the birds that their domain be the sky, He created them with this unique ability—an ability most other creatures do not share. To serve the goal of flight, God gave birds a light-weight body design and specially-designed wings. We see here a clear example of the truth that God gave to all creatures their particular “being, shape, form, and several offices” in order that they might carry out their God-given calling (Belgic Confession, Art. 12).
First, let us examine their body design. Consider God’s design of the bird’s skeletal system. The bones themselves are generally hollow and contain a minimum amount of material. One would think that such bones would be weaker, but they are, relatively speaking, very strong, being masterfully crafted with distinct “truss” and “strut” members that stiffen and strengthen the bones. In addition, many joints are eliminated—bones are merely fused together. This eliminates the need for extra joint tissue and tendons and ligaments. Finally, the “wishbone” of the bird’s chest is very flexible—acting like a spring that pulls the wings back to their original position, without the need of large and weighty muscles. The entire skeletal system is clearly designed for flight.
However, skeletal structure alone is not sufficient to reduce a bird’s mass to allow for easy flight. God also equips the birds with light-weight alternative body structures in contrast to what one might find in other warm-blooded creatures. For example, God created birds to cool off by means of panting rather than by the use of sweat glands. Sweat glands would only add weight, hindering flight. A bird also lacks the heavy teeth and jaw muscles that many organisms have in order to chew and digest their food. Instead of having heavy digestive organs, a bird is equipped with a gizzard—a light-weight sac that is responsible for breaking down a bird’s food. This organ was deliberately placed towards the center of the bird, for a more balanced distribution of weight in flight. In addition to this, birds have a very rapid rate of digestion, making it possible for them to rid themselves quickly of unwanted wastes, rather than carrying any extra load for an extended period of time. Birds also have relatively small brains compared to other warm-blooded creatures, in part due to the smaller lobes of the brain for the sense of smell. To make up for this lack of smell, the bird has been given excellent vision. Relatively speaking, a bird has large eyes, but it lacks the ability to move the eyes around and must turn its head in order to see at various angles. This reduces the amount, and thereby the weight, of muscle and attaching fibers normally needed to move the eyes. Thus, we clearly see the wise design of our God and Creator. He gave to birds the exact anatomical structures they would need in order to fly, thus accomplishing the task for which they were created. We give God all glory for such a rich and detailed design.
In addition to, and intimately related to, the bird’s light-weight body structure, there is also the unique feather and wing design. Each feather is an aerodynamic wonder. Wing feathers consist of a main hollow shaft called the ranchis. On either side of the ranchis are side branches called barbs, which collectively form a vane. Each barb of a vane has many side branches, called barbules, which have very tiny hooks on them. These hooks link with the barbules of a neighboring barb, effectively linking or zipping all the barbs of a vane together to make a “solid” feather. Without the ability to link together, the individual barbs would not serve the bird for flight. The fact that they can link together and create a solid “airfoil” is key to flight. Not only do the individual barbs of a feather work together to create a solid feather, but all the feathers work together in such a way that they form a wing—a unique anatomical structure designed perfectly for flight.
All for the Glory of God
O the majesty and wisdom of God! Who can be compared to Him? His wisdom in the intricate design of every aspect of a bird’s anatomy is so clearly shown, as it is with all other creatures, that we stand in utter awe of our Creator. God created. He spoke and it stood fast. What folly we see in the world that teaches that the ability of a bird to fly is the result of some evolutionary process. God forbid that we should allow any of His glory to be “stolen” by such vain teachings. May we be faithful to reject such a repugnant philosophy and give Him all the glory due His name.
What engenders the feeling of freedom more than a bird in the air? What remarkable strength is revealed by the powerful wing strokes of an eagle? Scripture gives us that sense, particularly of freedom and strength, in its references to the wings of a bird. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Is. 40:31). Revelation 12:14 illustrates the means of escape that is afforded the church from her enemy, the serpent, by saying “and to the woman (the church) were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.” In that regard, we sing with the psalmist, “O that I had wings like a dove, For then I would fly far away, And seek for the rest that I love, Where troubles no more could dismay” (Psalter 150—versification of Ps. 55:6). Give God all glory for His creation of birds, which leads us to contemplate God’s care, safety, and deliverance from all our spiritual enemies.
Finally, God’s glory is manifested in that He equips all creatures for the calling that He gives them. God has given to the birds a unique calling to live freely in the heavens, and therefore equips them in that regard. God, in fact, has a unique calling for all His creatures, including us—and for that calling He wisely equips each and every one. May we give serious consideration to this precious and comforting truth. God always equips us with the physical and spiritual gifts necessary to do that which He calls us to do. So, as we marvel at God’s word to the bird to prosper and inhabit the sky, may we also flourish in God’s Word of life to us, knowing that He equips us in our callings and says to us, “Live” (Ezek. 16).