Bird Facts | Golden Plover | Our Amazing World
88 Hours Non-Stop
by Rabbi Katz / T. Cohen
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
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
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.
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Approach to God's Existence
Theological implications of Modern Cosmology
Neurology and The Soul
and The Anthropic Principle
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