88 Hours Non-Stop

Have you ever traveled by plane, looked out the window, seen an expanse of featureless sea beneath you - and wondered where you were? How on earth should you know? You only hope that up front, in the pilot’s cabin, the navigator is not looking out his window and asking the same question!

Everyone understands that without the most sophisticated navigational aids and instruments it is impossible to travel accurately over long distances. What, therefore, would you say about the possibility of traveling from Alaska to Hawaii? The journey is over anonymous ocean, and there are no islands in midroute for stopping off to ask the way or to rest. How would you like to undertake the trip, with no map or compass to assist you?

Impossible? Perhaps for a human, but not for a bird. Bear in mind that birds have very small brains compared to humans (the term “birdbrain,” when applied to humans, is not a compliment). Their ability to learn is severely limited. They are born, however, with instincts which are so complex that to this very day they defy comprehension.

Consider, for example, the winter vacation of the “Golden Plover.” This bird lives in Alaska during the summer months. When the winter approaches, it sets off on its epic voyage to Hawaii. This involves a nonstop flight which takes it across the open sea, where no island punctuates the watery expanse. In addition, the bird cannot swim, so that a stop for a rest is impossible. The flight is a distance of at least 2,500 miles (depending on its starting-off point), lasts 88 hours, and involves no less than a quarter-million consecutive wing beats!

Now everyone knows that one of the chief limiting factors for nonstop air travel by plane is the difficulty in carrying sufficient fuel. How then does the Golden Plover carry sufficient fuel to burn enough energy to enable it to fly for 88 hours nonstop?

To ensure the necessary flying capacity, the bird must be of as light a build as possible, and excess weight must be avoided at all costs. (Think of the stringent rules employed by airlines to reduce overweight.) Likewise, use of fuel has to be as economical as possible.

The first step is to choose the most economical cruising speed. Should the bird fly too slowly, it would consume too much fuel simply to stay airborne. If it flies too quickly, it wastes too much energy overcoming wind resistance. If the bird knew about these facts, it would be able to fly as efficiently as possible!

The fact is that each bird has an optimum speed, depending on the aerodynamic construction of its fuselage and wings. It is a known fact that birds gear themselves exactly to this energy-saving speed. Who provided them with the information?

Consider some further amazing details. The bird’s starting weight is 7 ounces, of which 2.5 ounces are stored as layers of fat to be used as fuel. It is known that the Golden Plover converts 0.6 percent per hour of its current body weight into energy and heat. If you calculate this over a period of 88 hours, you will find that the Golden Plover has used almost 3 ounces of fuel. This is more than the available 2.5 ounces! Bear in mind that the bird itself cannot fall below 4.5 ounces. Thus, in spite of flying at the speed which minimizes his fuel consumption, the bird does not have enough fuel to reach Hawaii.

Why does it not crash into the sea a good 500 miles before it reaches its destination, when it should have run out of fuel?

The answer is breathtaking. The same Designer Who gave the bird its aerodynamic shape gave the bird a vital piece of information: not to fly singly, but in V-formation. In V-formation it saves 23 percent of its energy - enough to reach its winter quarters safely.

But that is not all. The extra power saved by flying in this manner will leave the Golden Plover with one-quarter ounce of fat in reserve after 88 hours of flying. Do not for one moment think that this extra fuel is superfluous. It has been included so that the bird reaches its destination even against a contrary wind. The extent of intelligence is breathtaking.

Now consider the following questions. How does the bird know how much fat is necessary for fuel? How does it arrange to have precisely this amount on board before embarking on its momentous journey? How does the bird know the distance and the specific rate of fuel consumption? Even more incredibly, how does the bird know where to go? (The first time it travels, it has never been there before!) And the most perplexing question of all: How does the bird know the way? The bird’s navigational achievement is unparalleled in any human activity.

You have to bear in mind that the Golden Plover must continually alter course to allow for winds which drift it off target. Even a slight diversion off course while crossing the endless, featureless expanse of the ocean would be fatal for migrating land birds. Keeping on course cannot be a matter of trial and error. Without navigational methods, the birds would never reach their destination, and no species could survive such an overwhelming attrition rate.

Birds’ capabilities extend beyond the bounds of our imagination. They can determine their homeward course over enormous distances even when all possible aids to orientation have been removed on the outward journey. On one occasion, a manx shearwater (“peffinus puffinus”) was taken from its nest in Wales to Boston, in the U.S.A. It arrived back in its nest in 12 days, 12 hours and 31 minutes - after a 3,100-mile nonstop transatlantic flight. Experiments in which birds were anaesthetized for the outward journey, or their cages were made to rotate constantly, made no difference whatsoever.

When birds migrate over wide, windswept oceans, they are bound to drift. This drift must be continuously compensated for in a feedback system, in order to avoid losing energy by flying a longer route. The birds are equipped with an autopilot which constantly measures its geographical position, comparing the data with its individually ‘programmed’ destination, ensuring an economical, direct and energy-saving flight.

This would sound fine if you were talking about a jumbo jet, but we are talking about a smidgen of a bird that has never ever been to the destination where it is heading, has not received any lessons in navigation, and possesses a brain not much larger than a pea.

That it possess fantastic navigational skills is beyond doubt. It is just the question of precisely where in the bird this vital skill is housed, and the precise mechanics of the amazing system that no one except the Designer understands.

When John Alcock and Arthur Brown flew from Newfoundland to Ireland on June 14-15, 1919—the first nonstop transatlantic flight—they became instant heroes. Their remarkable achievement was recognized and praised throughout the world (they were both knighted five days after they landed), all the more so because they ended their historic flight only 10 miles off course. They had a compass, charts, air speed indicator, drift indicator, a clock and a sextant to assist in their historic journey.

The Golden Plover, together with millions of birds, does the same, and so much more, year in and year out.

Excerpted with permission from “OUR AMAZING WORLD” - wonders of the world hidden below the surface.

Published by ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd., Brooklyn, NY.

origin: http://www.innernet.org.il/article.php?aid=103


by  Rabbi Katz
Posted in: Jewish Beliefs & Philosophy