“Oh that I had wings like a dove! then I would fly away, and be at rest.” Psalm 55:6
In the domain of hawk, gull, and sparrow, physiology and aerial prowess are synonymous. A bird is simply a masterpiece of engineering – the perfect flying machine – supremely crafted by God and endowed with the attributes for a life in the skies. Its breast muscles, which operate its wings, are enormous, in some birds, comprising 33% of their total body weight. At the same time a bird’s skeletal system is incredibly light. The bones of a pelican, with a wingspan of nearly six feet, weigh only about five ounces, yet they are strong and flexible enough to withstand the constant stress of maneuverable flight.
Add to this package highly efficient digestive and respiratory systems, a large and powerful heart, and feathers that streamline, insulate, and provide the necessary lift for wings and tail, and it is easy to understand how Solomon could describe a bird in the air as a sight “too wonderful for me” (Proverbs 30:18, 19).
The methods and techniques of flight generally fall into a few basic categories. Flapping or power flight involves a strong downward stroke that results in rapid lift and forward thrust. Generally, the larger the bird the slower it flaps its wings. In contrast, the hummingbird will beat its wings up to 80 times a second while performing what has been called the most versatile display of aerial skill in all of God’s creation. The tiny bird can hover or fly in all directions – forward, backward, or to the side, depending upon its needs. Its rigid wings move in a unique figure 8 motion, powered by exceptionally strong muscles and a flexible swivel joint at its shoulder. The tail works as a rudder controlling the direction of movement. Not surprisingly, the hummingbird expends tremendous amounts of energy and to survive, must consume twice its body weight in food every day.
Gliding and soaring are far less demanding forms of flight, yet once again, the elements of aeronautical design are clearly seen. Fulmars slope soar, riding on air deflected upward from cliffs as its wings work in harmony with the surrounding wind currents, while a heron spreads its enormous wings in a slow approach to its nest. Large primary feathers at the end of each wing offer precise control of both speed and direction. A similar design enables a condor to ride for hours on spirals of warm air. Again, a huge wing surface allows for effortless gliding as the bird of prey searches the valley floor for food.
But for all the soaring wonder and power that so abundantly fills the skies, perhaps the supreme testimony to the Creator’s gifts of flight and life itself is written on the tissue-thin wings of the Monarch butterfly. Its wings are driven by powerful muscles designed into the insect’s upper body, the thorax, essential for migration. Advancing steadily, they ride on rising columns of warm air that can elevate them thousands of feet. These expert gliders can travel more than 50 miles a day flying upwards of 3,000 miles to reach their winter home.
God reveals Himself to man through the things He has made. Each day in the wonders of land, sky, and sea, He presents us with a vivid picture of His existence and character. It is a continuing revelation, as exciting and diverse as the creatures He has brought into being. In the majestic grace of a bird or butterfly in flight, an eternal truth shines clear – the God of all creation is real and alive, His power and wisdom are without limit and He cares and provides abundantly for the life that He has made.
Wonders of God’s Creation, Animal Kingdom: Great Are Thy Works, ©2004.