Long-tailed Duck: Birdwatching in the Scottish Hebrides, Part 3

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Let them give glory unto the LORD, and declare [yaggîdû = hiphîl imperfect 3rd person masculine plural of nâgad, “to appear”, “to be clear”] his praise in the islands.   

(Isaiah 42:12)
LONG-TAILED DUCK (long-tailed male, smaller female), iNaturalist photo credit

Recently, when reviewing a bird-book that presented seabirds of the Hebrides, I noticed a duck’s name that I was unfamiliar with, the “Long-tailed Duck” [see Peter Holden & Stuart Housden, RSPB Handbook of Scottish Birds, 2nd edition (Bedfordshire, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing / Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, 2016), page 39].  However, I recalled that I’d seen similar-looking ducks, in near-freezing wetland pond-water, from a train-car of the White Pass and Yukon Railway, traveling from Skagway (Alaska) into British Columbia, about 20 years ago, probably during early September, when these ducks visit migratory stopover sites. 

So, what does a Long-tailed Duck look like?  For starters, the male (a/k/a drake) has a conspicuously long tail—that makes sense.

Smaller than Mallard, but tail of male may add 13 cm [about 5 inches].  Small, neat sea duck with a small, round head, steep forehead, all-dark wings in flight and white belly.  In winter, male is mainly white with a dark brown “Y” mark on its back, brown breast-band and a large, dark cheek patch.  In summer, it has a streaked brown back, dark head and neck, and pale greyish-white face patch.  Adult male has greatly elongated central tail feathers.  Female in winter shows a white collar, white face with dark lower cheeks and dark crown.  … In summer, female has a darker face than in winter.  Females have short tails.  Juvenile is like female in summer, but with a less contrasting face pattern.  Flight feathers are moulted between July and September; during part of this time birds are flightless for a few weeks.  Has a unique moult, as some back feathers are moulted four times a year and some head and neck feathers three times a year.

[Peter Holden & Stuart Housden,”Long-tailed Duck”, RSPB Handbook of Scottish Birds, 2nd ed. (Bloomsbury / Royal Society for Protection of Birds, 2016), page 39.]
Long-tailed Duck (male & female),  NaturalCrooks.com photo credit

Does that physical description sound familiar?  Do the photographs look familiar?

After some research I realized that certain cold-weather diving ducks, called “Oldsquaw” ducks in older guidebooks [e.g., James Kavanagh, The Nature of Alaska (Blaine, WA: Waterford Press, 1997), page 56], are now called “Long-tailed Duck” in newer guidebooks [e.g., Robert H. Armstrong, Guide to the Birds of Alaska, 6th edition (Portland, OR: Alaska Northwest Books, 2019), page 54]. But why?

Surely this is an odd duck.  In fact, its typical call is an odd quacking-warbling-hooting honk, sounding like a duck trying to yodel through a semi-muted horn.

The duck’s fancy scientific name, Clangula hyemalis, has not changed lately.

But political pressure intrudes into the mostly-apolitical ornithology neighborhood.  It seems that the earlier common name for this duck, “Oldsquaw”, is now deemed unacceptable, because it might offend someone who stumbles on the terms “old” and “squaw”, as imagining disrespectful stereotypes of elderly tribeswomen.  Although “P.C.” (i.e., political coërcion) pressures should not dictate taxonomy for ornithologists, there you have it—since the International Ornithologists’ Union has acted, so now all Oldsquaws are re-named “Long-tailed Ducks”!  What a world! 

Long-tailed Duck mother with young   (Wikipedia photo credit)

Ironically, to eschew the prior common name (“Oldsquaw”) implies that folks often disrespect old squaws, i.e., elderly womenfolk of the Native American tribes.  But why should someone be ashamed of being “old”?  It is a blessing to be given many years of earthly life (Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 16:31 & 20:29b; Job 12:12).  Likewise, why should an Indian woman—or any woman—be ashamed of being a “squaw” (i.e., a woman)?  It is a blessing and a privilege to be whomever God creates someone to be.  After all, God did not need to create anyone who would live long enough to become an old “squaw”, or an old “brave”, for that matter.  It is God’s generous and providential grace that we are whomever we are—because God could have made us all Long-tailed Ducks, or Coots, or Gooney Birds, or Grackles! 

While God appreciates the “simple”, yet unique, snowflakes that are ignored by busy humans, God treasures our personal lives (created in His image) infinitely more, as though we were His precious jewels (Malachi 3:17). In fact, God providentially planned our lives to be exactly what they are, and if we belong to Him, God artistically “works together for good” the component details of our lives (Romans 8:28). Surely, we should thank our Lord Jesus Christ for being our very personal Creator. So, the next time you see a grackle, think thankfully for a moment, “That could have been me!” And be grateful to your Creator, Who made you a unique, one-of-a-kind creation.

[Quoting JJSJ, “Of Grackles and Gratitude”, ACTS & FACTS, 41(7):8-10 (July 2012), posted at www.icr.org/article/6900/ .]
Long-tailed Duck (male & female), Animalia.bio photo credit

Meanwhile, back to the Oldsquaw’s cold-weather life in and near northern ocean seawaters.  The Long-tailed Duck is a sea-duck, spending most of its winter days at sea (not very close to shoreland), diving for food, though using arctic tundra, taiga (i.e., boreal forest), and subarctic coastlands for breeding, and for latter-month molting and migratory stopovers.  It’s a diving duck, sometimes diving to depths of 200 feet, using their feet to propel themselves downward, staying underwater moreso (i.e., longer) than other diving ducks. And oxygen-rich coldwaters contain lots of nutritious food for the Long-tailed Duck.

Dives to search mainly for crustaceans and molluscs, especially Blue Mussels, cockles, clams and crabs.  Also eats sandpipers, small fish such as gobies and some plant material.

[Peter Holden & Stuart Housden,”Long-tailed Duck”, RSPB Handbook of Scottish Birds, 2nd ed. (Bloomsbury / Royal Society for Protection of Birds, 2016), page 39.]
Long-tailed Duck with fish (BirdGuides / Martyn Jones photo credit)

Wonderful birds are there to be seen, in the Outer Hebrides (“Western Isles”).  If you get the opportunity, go see them!  Meanwhile, appreciate that they are there, living their daily lives—filling their part of the earth—and glorifying their Creator. 

><> JJSJ     profjjsj@aol.com 

White-tailed Eagle and Corncrake: Birdwatching in the Scottish Hebrides, Part 1

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Let them give glory unto the LORD, and declare his praise in the islands. 

Isaiah 42:12
White-tailed Eagle aloft in the Outer Hebrides   (LHH Scotland photo credit)

Watching coastal birds is a favorite pastime in the Outer Hebrides, according to Outer Hebrides Tourism.  Having visited some of the Inner Hebrides, with marvelous birdwatching opportunities (including puffins!), I am not surprised.

The Outer Hebrides archipelago is a unique island chain perched on the North Western edge of Europe. Here the landscape ranges from white sand beaches and flower covered machair grasslands to barren hilltops, fjord like sea lochs and vast peatlands. Wildlife is abundant and birds of prey are a particularly visible feature of the open landscapes . . . Spring and autumn are the best times to spot migrating birds in the Outer Hebrides with large numbers of seabirds passing up and down the coasts of our islands on their way to and from northern breeding grounds and wintering grounds to the south.  These are both exciting birding seasons in the Outer Hebrides when almost anything can turn-up but the highlights of spring and autumn birding in the Western Isles include the passage of Skuas offshore and the flocks of geese and whooper swans passing overhead. Visit in the spring and summer to see the Outer Hebrides seabird breeding colonies of terns and gulls, which be found scattered along the coastline on headlands, beaches, islands and sand dunes.  Although most breeding colonies are found offshore they will travel long distances to feed and birdwatchers can often see seabirds in the Western Isles from the shore.  Spot Gannets in the Outer Hebrides as they make their spectacular dives after fish and keep eyes open for Black Guillemot, Guillemot, [Atlantic] Puffin, Razorbill and Fulmars, as all are common island birds.

Quoting from “Bird of Prey Trail Locations” and “Wildlife: Coastal Birds”, VisitOuterHebrides.co.UK  —  emphasis added by JJSJ
Northern Gannet, aloft in the Outer Hebrides  (Islandeering photo credit)

Some of the coastal birds that frequent the Outer Hebrides include shorebirds (such as Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew Sandpiper, Dotterel, Dunlin, Jack Snipe, Little Stint, Oystercatcher, Pectoral Sandpiper, Purple Sandpiper, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Ruff, Sanderling, Turnstone, Heron), seagulls (such as Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Greater Black-backed Gull), as well as various ducks (such as Eider, Goldeneye, Black-throated Diver, Great-northern Diver, Red-throated Diver, Red-breasted Merganser, Shelduck, Shoveler, Long-tailed Duck), plus Shag and Cormorant, Atlantic puffin, Northern Gannet, geese (Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Greylag Goose), Mute Swan, plus a mix of passerine songbirds (such as Barred Warbler, Blackcap, Bluethroat, Brambling, Chiffchaff, Common Crossbill, Common Whitethroat Warbler, Corn Bunting, Dunnock, Hawfinch, House Martin, House Sparrow, Meadow Pipit, Pechora Pipit, Pied Flycatcher, Redwing, Rose-colored Starling, Stonechat, Yellow-browed Warbler), the Ring Ouzel, the ever-versatile Woodpigeon, and more!

Atlantic Puffin, ashore in the Outer Hebrides  (Sykes Cottages photo credit)

The Hebrides, formerly known as the “Western Isles”, are wildlife-watching venues.

With the islands enjoying one of the last untouched natural landscapes in Europe, wildlife in the Western Isles is some of the finest in the world, with Outer Hebrides animals and plants all at home in their surrounding without fear of poaching, pollution or disturbance.  Wildlife watching in the Outer Hebrides offers a glimpse into a time almost forgotten by the rest of the world, where the white -tailed eagle soars over the rugged coastline as red deer roam proudly over the peaty moorlands and [river] otters swim in many sea lochs.  Much of the wildlife in the Western Isles is unique and protected, meaning that visitors enjoying Scottish island nature breaks here can enjoy pursuits as diverse as spotting minke whale in the sea around the Outer Hebrides and eagle watching in the sky. 

[The Outer Hebrides] are a popular destination for birdwatching in Scotland, as birding in the Western Isles offers opportunities to see everything from birds of prey to seabirds and waders. Look out for the Bird of Prey Trail which spans the Outer Hebrides with location markers for the best places to see birds of prey. As well as this, the Western Isles are the summer home to two thirds of the elusive British corncrake population from April to September. 

[Quoting VisitOuterHebrides.co.UK, “Closer to Wildlife” — emphasis added by JJSJ
White-tailed Eagle   [ photo credit: Animalia.bio ]

In the above quotation the White-tailed Eagle (a/k/a “Sea Eagle”) is mentioned; this raptor is Great Britain’s (and thus also Scotland’s) largest bird of prey.  It habituates almost all of Scotland, including the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

The White-tailed eagle is one of the largest living birds of prey. It is sometimes considered the fourth largest eagle in the world and is on average the fourth heaviest eagle in the world. White-tailed eagles usually live most of the year near large bodies of open water and require an abundant food supply and old-growth trees or ample sea cliffs for nesting. They are considered a close cousin of the Bald eagle, which occupies a similar niche in North America. The adult White-tailed eagle is a greyish mid-brown color overall. Contrasting with the rest of the plumage in the adult are a clearly paler looking head, neck and upper breast which is most often a buffy hue. The brownish hue of the adult overall makes the somewhat wedge-shaped white tail stand out in contrast. All the bare parts of their body on adults are yellow in color, including the bill, cere [nose-like part of upper bill], feet, and eyes.

[Quoting “White-tailed Eagle”, Animalia, https://animalia.bio/white-tailed-eagle .]
White-tailed Eagle with caught fish   ( Wikipedia photo credit )

Watching these sea eagles catch fish in their talons, as they wing to, near, and then away from the seawater surface, is much like watching Bald Eagles catch fish in the coastal seawaters of Southeastern Alaska.  [See video clip of a Sea Eagle catching fish, at rspb.org.UK – website of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.]

White-tailed eagles are powerful predators and hunt mostly from perches, in a “sit-and-wait” style, usually from a prominent tree perch. Fish is usually grabbed in a shallow dive after a short distance flight from a perch, usually with the eagles only getting their feet wet. At times they will also fish by wading into shallows, often from shores or gravel islands. When it comes to non-fish prey, White-tailed eagles often hunt by flying low over sea coast or lake shore and attempt to surprise victims. [emphasis added]

[Quoting “White-tailed Eagle”, Animalia, https://animalia.bio/white-tailed-eagle .] 

These coastal raptors mostly eat fish.  However, they also eat waterfowl and small mammals (such as rodents).  During winter they eat lots of carrion.

In previous centuries the White-tailed eagle populated the coasts of Scotland, but it was hunted to extirpation in the A.D.1920s.  However, it was conservationally re-established on Rhum in A.D.1975, and (thankfully) it has since re-colonized (beyond 25 breeding pairs, apparently) many of the indented inlets of the coastal strands of Outer Hebrides islands, including Harris, Lewis, and South Uist. 

White-tailed Eagles are large birds (2-to-3 feet, from bill-tip to tail-tip; 6-to-8 feet wingspan; 9-to-16 pounds), famous for eating fish (such as salmon, trout), yet they also prey on rabbits and hares, geese, available seabirds (such as fulmars and petrels), and lamb carrion.  Like their Golden Eagle cousins—which reside in the Hebrides—these eagles establish and defend territories for their families.

Other birds of prey, habituating the Outer Hebrides, include two types of owls, the Short-eared Owl and the Long-eared Owl.  Other birds of prey include hawks (such as harriers, sparrow hawks, and ospreys) and falcons (such as kestrels, peregrines, and hobbies), which routinely find and consume rodents (such as voles).  Other birds of prey, sometimes observed, include Buzzards, Snowy Owl, and Gyrfalcon. 

However, in contrast to such carnivorous raptors, consider the common Corncrake.

Corncrake in grass      (Wikipedia photo credit)

The chicken-like Corncrake is a migratory rail that frequents grassy parts of Hebridean islands, as well as Scotland’s semi-marshy floodplain grasslands (dominated by grasses or sedges) and coastal wetlands (such as nettle beds, iris beds, and reed beds), yet the Corncrake prefers the tall plant-cover of farmed crop-fields (such as hayfields, fields of wheat and other cereals, and clover meadows).  This rail arrives from mid-April and stays for breeding and beyond, till August or September.  After that the Corncrake migrates to North Africa, for over-wintering.

Corncrake in camouflage       (IBTimes UK photo credit)

The Corncrake’s appearance somewhat resembles a young Grey Partridge (or somewhat like a moorhen or coot), yet it is almost as small as a blackbird.

Plumage softly but richly coloured, with pale grey face, fore-neck and breast, yellowish-buff upper parts, lined with cream and spotted or streaked blackish-brown, chestnut wings ‘catch fire’ in flight, barred white flanks.  Bill and legs dull pink.  Flight typical of [rail] family, loose-winged and clumsy; usually escapes by running into dense cover. 

[Quoting Roger Tory Peterson, Guy Mountfort, et al., A Field Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe (Houghton Mifflin, 1993), page 93.]
“Singing” male Corncrake, Hebrides (Steven Fryer/BirdGuides.com photo credit)

Because Corncrakes (a/k/a Land Rails) routinely reside in grassy fields, where photosynthetic biomass productivity is high, they have a smörgåsbord of seeds – as well as other foods, available just for the taking. 

Corncrake, hunting food, Hebrides (Alan Lewis/Surfbirds.com photo credit)

Besides seeds these rails eat bugs (especially cockroaches and beetles, including dung beetles), fly larvae, termites, ticks, spiders, dragonflies, earthworms, grasshoppers, slugs, snails, weevils, and even small frogs. [Regarding the diet of Corncrakes, see further Suzanne Arbeiter, Heiner Flinks, et al., “Diet of Corncrakes Crex crex and Prey Availability in Relation to Meadow Management”, ARDEA, 108(1):55-64 (April 24, 2020), posted at https://doi.org/10.5253/arde.v108i1,a7 . ]

Corncrake, on the island of Iona, Inner Hebrides (Flickr photo credit)

Corncrakes themselves must be careful—they serve as prey to other animals, including mustelids (mink, ferrets, and river otters), foxes, larger birds (such as white stork, harrier hawks, seagulls, and corvids, especially hooded crows).

Wonderful birds are there to be seen, in the Outer Hebrides (Scotland’s “Western Isles”).  If you get the opportunity, go see them! 

Meanwhile, appreciate that they are there, living their daily lives—filling their part of the earth—glorifying their Creator (Isaiah 42:12).

><> JJSJ     profjjsj@aol.com  

———————————–

BIRDS DIDN’T EVOLVE FROM REPTILES

NO: BIRDS DID NOT ‘EVOLVE’ FROM REPTILES

All flesh is not the same flesh; but there is one kind of flesh of men [ανθρωπων], another flesh of beasts [κτηνων], another of fishes [ιχθυων], and another of birds [τηνων]. (1st Corinthians 15:39)

Q:  Are today’s birds genealogical ‘cousins’ to reptiles, due to shared (evolutionary) ancestry?

A:  No.  (Not even close!) However, today’s birds and reptiles do share the same Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who created them (and their ancestors) to share the same earth, with us.


According to the evolutionary sequence of [imagined] events, birds are supposed to have evolved from reptiles.3

If that had occurred in the past, which it did not, it would mean that today’s birds—such as robins and roadrunners—would be distant ‘cousins’ of reptiles—such as cobras and crocodiles.

The Darwinian tale portrays today’s birds as winged dinosaurs who supposedly survived a global ‘extinction event’ that supposedly occurred about 66,000,000 years ago.1,2

Is there any eyewitness report supporting this magical scenario, or even evidence of any such timeframe? No and no.4,5

Although there are myriads of errors in this sensational speculation, only a few of which are mentioned here.

In particular, this pseudoscience scenario requires swallowing at least three invalid and drastic premises:

(1) the assumption that reptiles are not fundamentally different from birds;3 and

(2) the assumption that a secret agent (oxymoronically named “Natural Selection”, as if “its” naturalistic outcomes were intended) can accidently invent—and then successfully secure (i.e., genetically “lock down”)—such traumatic transitional transmogrifications;5 and

(3) the assumption that any such transitions’ biochemical and genetic details, in defiance of entropy’s universal destructiveness, repeatedly escaped thermodynamic reality.5

For starters, just imagine the first-listed problem, i.e., the complicated anatomical and physiological differences between birds and reptiles:

  • birds have hollow bones; reptiles, except for marrow cavities, have solid bones;
  • birds use air sacs for non-stop unidirectional (one-way) airflow through their lungs; most reptiles have two-way breathing systems;
  • birds are endothermic (warm-blooded), actively controlling their body “thermostats”; reptiles are mostly ectothermic (cold-blooded);
  • birds have muscle-controlled feathers; reptiles have dry skins or scales;
  • birds have four-chambered hearts; reptiles usually have three-chambered hearts;
  • most birds have major muscles anchored to their front, attached to a keeled sternum (breastbone), facilitating perching; reptiles’ main muscles anchor to their vertebral column (backbone), attached in arrangements conducive for standing, walking, and running.2

Don’t expect reptiles to accidentally change their genes to produce birds as descendants. As Fiona Smith says:

In other words, you don’t just put feathers on a reptile and then it can fly. There are a multitude of [essential] attributes, all working together, that make a bird fly.2

There is much more proof—to borrow Dr. Frank Sherwin’s observations—that birds have always (and only) been birds, and that reptiles have always (and only) been reptiles.

God created each bird, and each reptile, to be whatever He chose that creature to be–and it’s our privilege to see God’s magnificent creation and to learn about His magnificent majesty in the process (Revelation 4:11)!


References

1 For centuries evolutionists have proposed the notion that birds somehow evolved from reptiles, imagining “feathered dinosaurs” or dinosaur-like flying reptiles (like pterodactyls) as speculative ‘transitional’ animals. See, accord, R. Will Burnett, Harvey L. Fisher, & Herbert S. Zim, Zoology: An Introduction to the Animal Kingdom (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1958), pages 5-7, 13-17, 72-75; Herbert S. Zim & Ira N. Gabrielson, Birds: A Guide to the Most Familiar American Birds (New York, NY: Golden Press, 1964), pages 12-13.

2 “Birds are incredible flying (and occasionally non-flying) machines. The Creator has designed these creatures with specialized flight apparatus, an amazing respiratory system, not to mention unbelievable migration and navigation abilities.” Sherwin, Frank J., “A ‘One-Hundred-Million-Year-Old Bird’ Is Still a Bird”, Creation Science Update (posted June 20, 2006). See also James J. S. Johnson, “Wandering Albatross: Wide Wings on the Winds”, Creation Science Update (July 2, 2020), citing Job 39:26-27 as illustrating God’s bioengineering that enables heavy birds to efficiently use wind current for launching their heavier-than-air bodies into the sky.

3 Smith, Fiona. 2015. Evidence for Creation: A Tour through Some East-Australian Zoos (Fremantle, Western Australia: Vivid Publishing), pages 164-165 (quotation), 251. The late Fiona Smith (now in Heaven with her Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ), an Australian professional geoscientist and science educator, graduated ICR’s School of Biblical Apologetics, during 2015 with a Master of Christian Education degree (joint major in Biblical Education & Apologetics).

4 Regarding the need for reliable eyewitnesses, to learn the real truth about unique events of the no-longer-observable past, see James J. S. Johnson, “There’s Nothing Like an Eyewitness”, Acts & Facts, 45(12):20 (December 2016).

5 Regarding the ubiquitous and inescapable destructiveness of biochemical entropy, see James J. S. Johnson, “Infinite Time Won’t Rescue Evolution”, Acts & Facts. 47(6):21 (June 2018). The phrase “natural selectin” is a misleading bait-and-switch term, because the action of “selection” necessarily requires a selector who can think (i.e., utilize information while exercising intelligence), prefer/favor one outcome as more valuable than another (i.e., make value judgments), and make/implement action-oriented decisions (i.e., make volitional choices). Regarding the mystical-animistic role that Darwinian selectionists imagine inanimate “nature” as playing, in order to “favor” or “select” a series of genetic mutations for producing phenotypically survivability-“fit” outcomes, see Randy J. Guliuzza, “Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: The Illusion that Natural Selection Operates on Organisms”, Acts & Facts, 40(9):121-15 (September 2011).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Jim Johnson (“JJSJ”), shown here with a Roger Tory Peterson bird-book (in St. Petersburg, Florida, birdwatching in the backyard of Chaplain Bob & Marcia Webel), was first taught this post’s main facts by Mrs. Thelma Bumgardner, his 2nd grade teacher (a true creation science educator), at Damascus Elementary School in Maryland. During the half-century thereafter Jim has enjoyed learning about birds–and, more importantly, about the Lord Jesus Christ (the Creator or birds and everything else, including us!)–and have acquired some relevant formal education (including college degrees with concentrations on the ecology and zoology of birds)–and a lot of birding adventures (including one that almost cost him his life). Due to the kind patience, WordPress-savvy knowledge/skills and accomplishments, and ever-ready technical expertise of Professor Lee Dusing (who owns, operates, and prolifically posts on Leesbird.com, as she indefatigably role-models what Christian ornithologists should be like), Jim has been able to occasionally post articles, for the past few years, on this Christian birdwatching blog. To God be the glory!

BIRDS DIDN’T EVOLVE FROM REPTILES

Minnesota Bird Songs

Grey Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) by Raymond Barlow

Grey Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) by Raymond Barlow

Dr. Jim (JJSJ) sent me this link and I think you will also enjoy it. If you look down through there, you will see a Catbird. Now, you will be able to hear him along with all the other Minnesota bird songs. Enjoy!! [Thanks, Dr. Jim]

https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mcvmagazine/bird_songs_interactive/index.html

“…When one rises up at the sound of a bird, …” (Ecclesiastes 12:4 NKJV)

Catbird at Gatorland

James J. S. Johnson

Sharing The Gospel

Hummingbirds See Colors Over (Beyond) the Rainbow

Hummingbirds See Colors Over (Beyond) the Rainbow

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them.  [ Proverbs 20:12 ]

God has equipped hummingbirds with a range of color vision that exceeds that of humans, so it’s fair to say that hummingbirds see over—or beyond—the rainbow.

This “beyond-the-rainbow” vision helps birds to see food, predators, nectar-producing plants, potential mates, and 3D objects within their physical environment. Recent research corroborates this amazing fact.(1),(2)

Humans have three types of color-sensitive cones in their eyes—attuned to red, green and blue light—but birds have a fourth type, sensitive to ultraviolet light. “Not only does having a fourth color cone type extend the range of bird-visible colors into the UV, it potentially allows birds to perceive combination colors like ultraviolet+green and ultraviolet+red—but this has been hard to test,” said [Dr. Mary Caswell] Stoddard. …  Stoddard and her colleagues designed a series of experiments to test whether hummingbirds can see these nonspectral colors. Their results appear June 15 [2020] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.(1)

[ see Princeton University citation below ]

Nonspectral colors are perceived when nonadjacent cone types (sensitive to widely separated parts of the light spectrum) are predominantly stimulated. For humans, purple (stimulation of blue- and red-sensitive cones) is a nonspectral color; birds’ fourth color cone type creates many more possibilities.(2)

[ see Stoddard , Eyster, et al. citation below ]

For years, literally, Dr. Stoddard and her team tested and quantified how wild hummingbirds see colors beyond the spectrum of white light that humans see.

To investigate how birds perceive their colorful world, Stoddard and her research team established a new field system for exploring bird color vision in a natural setting. Working at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Gothic, Colorado, the researchers trained wild broad-tailed hummingbirds (Selasphorus platycercus) to participate in color vision experiments. … [using] a pair of custom “bird vision” LED tubes programmed to display a broad range of colors, including nonspectral colors like ultraviolet+green. Next they performed experiments in an alpine meadow frequently visited by local broad-tailed hummingbirds, which breed at the high-altitude site.(1)

[ see Princeton University citation below ]

The experiment was sweet, as one would expect with hummingbirds.(3)

Each morning, the researchers rose before dawn and set up two feeders: one containing sugar water and the other plain water. Beside each feeder, they placed an LED tube. The tube beside the sugar water emitted one color, while the one next to the plain water emitted a different color. The researchers periodically swapped the positions of the rewarding and unrewarding tubes, so the birds could not simply use location to pinpoint a sweet treat. … Over the course of several hours, wild hummingbirds learned to visit the rewarding color. Using this setup, the researchers recorded over 6,000 feeder visits in a series of 19 experiments.(1)

[ see Princeton University citation below ]
See the source image
The results were—one might say—colorful. Unlike human eyes that can see one “nonspectral” color, purple, hummingbird eyes apparently see five “nonspectral” colors.

Stoddard’s team was particularly interested in “nonspectral” color combinations, which involve hues from widely separated parts of the color spectrum, as opposed to blends of neighboring colors like teal (blue-green) or yellow (green-red). For humans, purple is the clearest example of a nonspectral color. Technically, purple is not in the rainbow: it arises when our blue (short-wave) and red (long-wave) cones are stimulated, but not green (medium-wave) cones. While humans have just one nonspectral color—purple, birds can theoretically see up to five: purple, ultraviolet+red, ultraviolet+green, ultraviolet+yellow and ultraviolet+purple.(1)

[ see Princeton University citation below ]

Birds have four color cone types in their eyes, compared to three in humans. In theory, this enables birds to discriminate a broad range of colors, including many nonspectral colors. … We trained wild hummingbirds to participate in color vision tests, which revealed that they can discriminate a variety of nonspectral colors, including UV+red, UV+green, purple, and UV+yellow. Additionally, based on an analysis of ∼3,300 plumage and plant colors, we estimate that birds perceive many natural colors as nonspectral.(2)

[ see Stoddard, Eyster, et al. citation below ]

Also, the research team studied minute differences in color, as they are featured in plant material and bird feathers—there is a lot more to color that is appreciated by most human eyes!

Finally, the research team analyzed a data set of 3,315 feather and plant colors. They discovered that birds likely perceive many of these colors as nonspectral, while humans do not … [due to the birds’] four color-cone visual system.(1)

[ see Princeton University citation below ]

How colorful the world must be to hummingbirds!

Dr. Stoddard’s team were not the first to study the beyond-the-rainbow vision of birds. Previous studies have been reported, using finches and sparrows, indicating that diet is important for avian eyesight.

The ability of finches, sparrows, and many other birds to see a visual world hidden to us is explained in a study published in the journal eLife. Birds can be divided into those that can see ultraviolet (UV) light and those that cannot. Those that can live in a sensory world apart, able to transmit and receive signals between each other in a way that is invisible to many other species. … The study reveals two essential adaptions that enable birds to expand their vision into the UV range: chemical changes in light-filtering pigments called carotenoids and the tuning of light-sensitive proteins called opsins. Birds acquire carotenoids through their diets and process them in a variety of ways to shift their light absorption toward longer or shorter wavelengths.(4)

[ see PhysOrg citation below ]

If that seems complicated and mathematically challenging, it is!(4),(5)

The researchers characterized the carotenoid pigments from birds with violet vision and from those with UV vision and used computational models to see how the pigments affect the number of colors they can see. … The study also revealed that sensitivity of the violet/UV cone and the blue cone in birds must move in sync to allow for optimum vision. Among bird species, there is a strong relationship between the light sensitivity of opsins within the violet/UV cone and mechanisms within the blue cone, which coordinate to ensure even UV vision.(4)

[ see PhysOrg citation below ]

The more-technical description of the research is even more challenging, to read, but the implications are “clearly seen”—God has given birds amazing eyesight.

Color vision in birds is mediated by four types of cone photoreceptors whose maximal sensitivities (λmax) are evenly spaced across the light spectrum. … SWS1 [shortwave-sensitive cone] opsin is accompanied by a corresponding short-wavelength shift in the spectrally adjacent SWS2 cone.(5)

[ see Toomey, Lind, et al. citation below ]

Hummingbird eyesight is facilitated by some really technical details!

Here, we show that SWS2 cone spectral tuning is mediated by modulating the ratio of two apocarotenoids, galloxanthin and 11’,12’-dihydrogalloxanthin, which act as intracellular spectral filters in this cell type. We propose an enzymatic pathway that mediates the differential production of these apocarotenoids in the avian retina, and we use color vision modeling to demonstrate how …  spectral tuning is necessary to achieve even sampling of the light spectrum and thereby maintain near-optimal color discrimination.(5)

[ see Toomey, Lind, et al. citation below ]

At the practical level, how can Christians benefit from knowing about avian eyesight? Or, what about other features—like wings, feathers, and motion-regulating software—that God has designed and installed into the world’s hummingbirds? Are we missing an opportunity to appreciate God if we ignore what He has done to enable hummingbirds to live as they do?

Hummingbird beaks, bones, and feathers differ from those of all other living or extinct bird kinds. Their wings don’t fold in the middle. Instead, they have a unique swivel joint where the wing attaches to the body so that the wings rotate in a figure-eight pattern. And they move fast! They have to beat their wings rapidly to hover, levitating with level heads as they extract nectar from flowers for hours per day. Scientists still need to discover the bird’s mental software that coordinates information about the location of a flower’s center with muscle motion that expertly stabilizes the hummingbird’s little head as it drinks.(6)

[ see Thomas citation below ]

Astonishing! What a stupendous and beauty-broadcasting imagination our God has—how can we see His busy, busy hummingbirds without admiring His technical genius and His bioengineering power?(7)

[ see Sherwin citation below ]

Yet every hummingbird alive today is a descendant from the originals made by God on Day 5 of Creation Week.

Their size, flight characteristics and patterns, metabolism, all point to our magnificent Creator who designed these amazing animals and created them on Day Five.(8)

References

  1. Staff writer, Princeton University. 2020. Spectacular bird’s-eye view? Hummingbirds see diverse colors humans can only imagine. PhysOrg (June 15, 2020), posted athttps://phys.org/news/2020-06-spectacular-bird-eye-view-hummingbirds-diverse.html .
  2. Stoddard, M. C., H. N. Eyster, et al. 2020. Wild Hummingbirds Discriminate Nonspectral Colors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (June 15, 2020), posted at  https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1919377117 .  
  3. Mitchell, E. 2014. Our Creator’s Sweet Design for Hummingbird Taste (Answers in Genesis: News to Know, September 6, 2014), posted https://answersingenesis.org/birds/our-creators-sweet-design-hummingbird-taste/ (with a link, in Footnote #1, to video footage of hummingbird sugar consumption).
  4. Staff writer, eLife. 2016. How Birds Unlock their Super-Sense, Ultraviolet Vision.PhysOrg (July 12, 2016), posted at https://phys.org/news/2016-07-birds-super-sense-ultraviolet-vision.html?utm_source=TrendMD&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Phys.org_TrendMD_1 .
  5. Toomey, M. B., O. Lind, et al. 2016. Complementary shifts in photoreceptor spectral tuning unlock the full adaptive potential of ultraviolet vision in birds. eLife Sciences / Biochemistry, Chemical Biology, Neuroscience (July 12, 2016), posted at https://elifesciences.org/articles/15675 ; doi: 10.7554/eLife.15675
  6. Thomas, B. 2016. Hummingbirds! Acts & Facts. 45(4), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/hummingbirds .
  7. Sherwin, F. 2006. Hummingbirds at ICR. Acts & Facts. 35(9), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/hummingbirds-at-icr .  
  8. Dreves, D. 1991. The Hummingbird: God’s Tiny Miracle. Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal. 14(1):10-12.  

All God’s Creatures Got A Place In The Choir

Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis) by Nikhil

Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis) by Nikhil

Thought you might enjoy this:

“Give thanks unto the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of all his wondrous works.” (1 Chronicles 16:8-9 KJV)

Savannah Sparrow singing by Ray

Savannah Sparrow singing by Raymond Barlow

“The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.” (Psalms 65:13 KJV)

Tree Swallows Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge by jeremyjonkman on Flickr From Pinterest

“By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches.” (Psalms 104:12 KJV)

Wood Storks in Top of Tree at Circle B

There are quite a few versions of this song on YouTube. This is just one of many.

Fishing With Bread II

Black-Crowned Night Heron at S Lk Howard

Black-Crowned Night Heron at South Lake Howard by Lee

Thought you would enjoy another bird using bread to fish:

This one is having better fortune than Simon Peter and fellow fishermen. They fished all night with no catches.

“Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.” (John 21:3-5 KJV)

Backyard Birding – Green Heron

Good News

By Design: Woodpeckers

“I feel like I’m beating my head against the wall.” Obviously, that’s an expression we use to describe a pointless pursuit that accomplishes nothing but pain. However, it is an action that a woodpecker does on purpose… and apparently by design!

“God’s plan for the world stands up, all his designs are made to last.” Psalm 33:12, The Message

Silhouette of a Pileated Woodpecker at dawn. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. May 4, 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com

I always marvel as I watch woodpeckers hammer away… chunks of bark and wood flying everywhere. I could only imagine how much my brain would be rattled if I were to try it myself. With all the concerns about concussions in high school and college athletes, it is clearly something humans weren’t designed to do.

But that is not true of the woodpeckers. The ability to hammer on hard objects with the front of their face is undoubtedly designed by a Creator. In Unlocking the Mysteries of Creation, Dennis Peterson writes, “The woodpecker is totally different from other birds. Every part of his body is especially fitted for drilling into wood.”

Red-headed Woodpecker; Greene County, Georgia birding, June 13, 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com.

The woodpecker’s beak alone is designed for the job. It is harder than that of other birds, and the base of the bill is fitted with a shock-absorbing tissue not found in some other species. To go along with a beak designed for drilling, the woodpecker has a specialized tongue. Fashioned to fit into those freshly drilled holes, the woodpecker’s tongue is four times longer than the beak and wraps around the back of the bird’s skull! The tail, legs and claws are also specialized designs to help the woodpecker hold in place during his jack-hammer feeding sessions. And a keen sense of smell helps the woodpecker determine the precise drilling point to maximize the chance of excavating an insect.

All these wonderfully engineered traits could only come about by design. Partially evolved traits in a primitive ancestor would only result in broken beaks and a lot of headaches! These features are obviously designed to the woodpecker’s advantage and keep it from pointlessly beating his head against the wall!


Hi, I’m wildlife photographer and nature writer William Wise. I was saved under a campus ministry while studying wildlife biology at the University of Georgia. My love of the outdoors quickly turned into a love for the Creator and His works. I’m currently an animal shelter director and live in Athens, Georgia with my wife and two teenage daughters, who are all also actively involved in ministry. Creation Speaks is my teaching ministry that glorifies our Creator and teaches the truth of creation.  — “What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at Your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.” Psalms 104, The Message.

Laughing Is Good For The Soul

Kookaburra Lowry Park Zoo 12-31-15 by Lee

Laughing Kookaburra Lowry Park Zoo 12-31-15 by Lee

A friend sent me a message with a Kookaburra video. and was wondering if this is a Kookaburra. In response, I reminded her of these previous articles here. We all need to laugh and let off some of our pent up boredom, fustration, idleness, loneliness, or just Need A Good Laugh for our soul’s Well-being.

A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken. (Proverbs 15:13 KJV)

Meet Merlin, from the Orlando Sea World:

Here are some of the articles from the past with these good-natured birds:

Kookaburra – Chattery Birds With A Merry Heart – 2010

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Laughing Kookaburra -2011

Kookaburra Encounter – 2014

Tickle Me Tuesday Revived – Laughing Kookaburras – 2019

Kingfishers And Kookaburras – From Creation Moments – 2020

Kookaburra at Brevard Zoo by Dan

Laughing Kookabura Brevard Zoo

Laughing Kookabura Brevard Zoo

Lee and Kookaburra at Brevard Zoo by Dan

Have a great day, and may you keep a smile on your face and in your heart.

 

Birdwatching is the right thing to do!

Appreciating  birds  (including,  but  not  limited  to,  Birdwatching)  is  the  right  thing  to  do!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

birds-Matthew6.25-26 Now begins a new Leesbird.com series (D.v.), on “Birds Are Wonderful! — And Some Are a Little Weird“.*

In this series we will learn to appreciate a variety of birds, while appreciating our great God Who made all those birds — and while also realizing that our great God made each of us who we are, though He could have made us otherwise!birds-grackle.could-have-been-you

Of course, birds began on Day 5, so birds are older than the human race — by 1 day  — since God made the original human pair (Adam & Eve) on Day 6 of Creation Week.

birds-Genesis1.20-22Stay tuned!

* Quoting from “Birds Are Wonderful, and Some Are a Little Weird”, (c) AD2019 James J. S. Johnson   [used here by permission].