Chicken, Magpie, and Easter Greetings

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“Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” For centuries, Christians have used this greeting to celebrate Resurrection Day, better known as Easter.1 Ironically, there are two birds that can remind us of the historicity and importance of Christ’s rising from the dead, three days after His death and burial.

CHICKENS

Amazingly, the Lord Jesus once compared His own willingness and ability to care and protect humans to that of a chicken—specifically, a mother hen—who uses her own body to protectively care for her own hatchling baby chicks.2 How good it is to belong to the Lord Jesus Christ forever! When He offers to take us in and protect us, we should be eager and grateful to accept His care and security.

But we more closely associate a male chicken (rooster) with the arrest, trials, torture, and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.

Readers might have already guessed that male chickens are associated with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection because of the rooster who crowed after Peter ignominiously denied the Lord Jesus, thrice, in fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy.3 In fact, this incident is so important that it is reported by all four gospel writers.3

For example, Mark reports this disappointing failure of Peter, involving the tattletale fowl, a sad chapter in the life of the usually bold apostle: Peter’s triple failure to stand up for Christ, as predicted by Christ Himself. This display of Peter’s imperfect courage and loyalty (even though his inward belief never failed) is linked to the twice-crowing of a rooster.

A second time the rooster crowed. Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And when he thought about it, he wept.4

What a sad note to end with! Except, as proven three days later, that wasn’t really the end.5

MAGPIES

Most people are unlikely to guess that magpies—such as the Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen6)—can be associated with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. How so?

The most famous variety of this “butcherbird,” formerly called the “piping shrike” or “white-backed crow shrike,” is now called the white-backed magpie (Cracticus tibicen telonocua). But many call it the Australian magpie because it appears on the official state flag of South Australia.

Whatever you want to call it, it is famous for its flute-like call, entertaining with a complex repertoire of vocalizations. The black-and-white opportunist has habituated to human-dominated habitats, such as the agricultural fields of farms, gardens, and even wooded parklands.6

The Australian magpie is not timid. It will defend its territory against raptors trespassing therein, such as brown goshawks. The Australian magpie is not a picky eater. Its diet includes both plants and animals. Its preferred diet, however, is dominated by a variety of larval and adult invertebrates, such as insects (like ants, moths, beetles, bees, wasps, cockroaches) and arachnids (like spiders and stinger-wielding scorpions!), as well as earthworms and millipedes. The Australian magpie is also known to eat some small vertebrates, such as mice, skinks, frogs, and toads.6

Some compare the problem-solving resourcefulness and the brash cockiness of this bird to the national reputation displayed by many Aussie ex-patriots.

The Australian magpie is quite a clever problem-solver. It has been observed breaking off the stingers of bees and wasps before swallowing such dangerous bugs!7

By now you’ve likely guessed why this bird reminds us of Resurrection Day—the Australian magpie’s power to neutralize a dangerous stinger.

But insect or arachnid stingers are nothing compared to the powerful sting of death. Yet, Christ’s bodily resurrection on the third day defeated death’s “stinger.”

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.8

Hallelujah! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

References
1. Morris, H. M. 2006. Christ Is RisenDays of Praise. Posted on ICR.org April 16, 2006, accessed April 7, 2020.
2. Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34. Cansdale, G. S. 1976. All the Animals of the Bible Lands. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 163-165.
3. Matthew 26:34, 26:74-75; Mark 14:30, 14:68-72; Luke 22:34, 22:60-61; John 13:38, 18:27.
4. Mark 14:72.
5. Matthew 12:39-40; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4Romans 10:9Psalm 16:9-10.
6. Taxonomists have also labeled the Australian Magpie as the Australian Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen (meaning “trumpeting bare-nose”). Regarding the physical and behavioral traits of the Australian Magpie, see Veltman, C. J., and R. E. Hickson. 1989. Predation by Australian Magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen) on Pasture Invertebrates: Are Non-territorial Birds Less Successful? Australian Journal of Ecology. 14(3): 319-326; Cake, M., A. Black, L. Joseph. 2018. The Generic Taxonomy of the Australian Magpie and Australo-Papuan Butcherbirds Is Not All Black and White. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club. 138(4): 346-359; Brown, E. D., and C. J. Veltman. 1987. Ethnogram of the Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) in Comparison to Other Cracticidae and Corvus Species. Ethology (International Journal of Behavioural Biology). 76(4): 309-333. This author also appreciatively thanks Fiona Smith, M.C.Ed.—ICR SOBA graduate and Australian creation science educator/author—for her help with research and perspectives on Australian magpies.
7. Dr. Amy L. Adams notes: “Magpies will walk along the ground searching for food by overturning debris or probing their bills into the dirt. They eat insects, larvae and other invertebrates. Magpies are known to remove the stingers of wasps and bees before eating them.” Adams, A. 2016. Gymnorhina tibicen Australian MagpieMuseums Victoria Collections. Posted on collections.museumvictoria.com, accessed April 7, 2020.
8. 1 Corinthians 15:53-57, quoting Messianic prophecy in Hosea 13:14.

*Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.


James J. S. Johnson Articles Here

Article at I.C.R. https://www.icr.org/article/chicken-magpie-and-easter-greetings/

The Created Sun and Moon – Re-post from I.C.R.

Solar Eclipse 2011 ©WikiC

“The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.” (Ecclesiastes 1:5 KJV)

It is He Who sits upon the circuit of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are like grasshoppers; it is He  Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out as a tent to dwell in (Isaiah 40:22)

Dr. James J. S. Johnson (usually appearing as “JJSJ” on this blog), from the Institute for Creation Research, has released a Podcast about our Created Sun and Moon. Especially with the Total Eclipse of the Sun today (August 21st AD2017) by the Moon, across North America, we thought you would enjoy this information.

“What does Scripture say about the sun and the moon? How do these two “great lights” rule the heavens? Dr. Jim Johnson describes the sun and moon’s impact on our planet, as well as their effects on plants, animals, and humans. He also sheds light on a historical controversy involving Galileo…..” CLICK TO HEAR

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More from James J. S. Johnson

Celebrating the Life-Saving Heroism of Alaskan Dog Mushers (and their Sled Dogs) – Repost

What an interesting article that James J. S. Johnson wrote on his blog. I thought you might enjoy it. The video of an actual dog slide ride is really challenging.

rockdoveblog

 Celebrating the Life-Saving Heroism of Alaskan Dog Mushers (and their Sled Dogs)

James J. S. Johnson, JD, ThD, CNHG

sleddogs-alaska-iditarod

As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.  Galatians 6:10

Imagine a celebration of Siberian husky sled dogs, harnessed together as a racing team, guided by their human driver (called a “musher”), zooming across frigid snow trails in rural Alaska:  this is what happens in a commemorative festival/event called the IDITAROD TRAIL RACE.  (See the YouTube video footage below.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jI3bliK7R94

The Iditarod is an outdoors reenactment-like celebration of dogsled mushing, to remember the heroic relay race – through day and night, blizzard winds, snow, and ice – to save human lives, during a life-or-death crisis in January-February AD1925, when a highly contagious diphtheria plague struck like a serial killer, menacing the almost-unreachable population of Nome, Alaska.

The crisis…

View original post 1,707 more words

BREATHE SLOWLY, AND WAIT FOR AN OPEN DOOR – Repost

Duck from Refrigerator

Duck from Refrigerator

RockDoveBlog published this article yesterday and thought you might enjoy reading about this Cool Duck.

An amazing story of duck survival was reported, years ago, by BBC News:

A duck in the US state of Florida has survived gunshot wounds and a two-day stint in a refrigerator. A hunter shot the duck, wounding it in the wing and leg. Believing the bird was dead, he left it in his fridge at his home in Tallahassee. The hunter’s wife got a fright when she opened the fridge and the duck lifted its head, a local veterinarian said. Staff at the Goose Creek Animal Sanctuary who are treating the bird said it has a 75% chance of survival. CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF  THE BLOG

Also BBC’s article about this duck.

“Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.” (James 5:7 KJV)

WilliesDuckDiner.CajunCusine-AD2018

Cajun Cuisine at Willie’s Duck Diner (West Monroe, Louisiana, AD2018)

See More of JJSJ’s articles here

Making a Joyful Noise in Estonia’s Tallinn: A Quick Memoir of Common Swifts

Making a Joyful Noise in Estonia’s Tallinn: A Quick Memoir of Common Swifts

James J. S. Johnson

commonswift-jiribohdal-photo

COMMON SWIFT (Apus apus)    photo credit: Jiri Bohdal

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.   (Psalm 100:1)

What is making a “joyful noise”? It is commanded is Scripture, whatever it is – see Psalm 66:1; 81:1; 95:1-2; 98:4; 98:4; 100:1.

To many, the noise of circuitous swifts is just that, a screeching-like screaming noise — not the kind of “music” that King David would have included in his orchestra-supported choir (1st Chronicles 15:16). But to a bird-lover, the aerial call of this air-zooming insectivore is a “joyful noise”, installed and directed by the Composer and Giver of all birdsong (and other avian vocalizations).

Yes, as other ignore them, I enjoy hearing the energetic calls of Common Swifts (Apus apus), as they zip around, in hunting packs, de-bugging the lower airspace during the bug-filled days of summer.

commonswift-flock-in-air

COMMON  SWIFT  flock  in  air   (photo credit:  Biopix; J C Schou)

On July 10th of AD2006 I was watching a flock of swifts circling above the rooftops in Old Town, Tallinn, Estonia. The flock’s high-speed-choreography included swerving, veering, soaring, turning, rolling, and circling maneuvers — always in graceful curves, yet nonetheless amazingly quick – in a word, “swift”. It was done so fluidly that it compares, though at a smaller-group level, with the carefully choreographed flock-flights of starling murmurations (which are described elsewhere at “Choreographed Choir on the Wing: Birds of a Feather Flock Together:).

It was a privilege to see such a lively and speedy display of God’s bioengineering, a fly-by performance, like a high-speed aerial parade. And the quaint old-town venue, Tallinn’s “Old Town”, still includes walls and towers from the Hanseatic League era (some 2 or 3 centuries older than the Protestant Reformation), providing an air of calm busyness that matched the swifts’ quick-turning air-dance.

The COMMON SWIFT (Apus apus) is, as its name suggests, a bird that is both common and quick. As a true “swift”, having wings curved like a parenthesis (or boomerang, or crescent-sliver), it somewhat resembles a short-legged version of a Barn Swallow or Purple Martin, colored in black and grey, although its wings are narrower and more sickle-shaped in flight. When viewed from beneath, a swift’s silhouette (against the sky) almost looks like an anchor, as it glides. And swifts often glide, often circling above or near rooftops and other objects. When they want to accelerate, their wingbeats are thorough and (unsurprisingly) swift. The super-short legs are used for clinging to walls and other vertical surfaces, matching the German name for this bird, Mauersegler (“wall-glider”). Don’t expect to see this bird sitting on the ground – if it is “grounded” there is probably an involuntary explanation.

commonswift-range-map-wikipedia

COMMON SWIFT range map (Wikipedia)

And “common” it is, in summer, all over Europe (and ranging from west to east across the middle band of Asia, as well as much of the Mideast and India). This insect-gobbling bird is a migrant, going where the bugs are plentiful — before the “bug famine” of Eurasia’s winter months the Common Swift migrates to the southern half of Africa, where bugs teem (during Africa’s summer months). Swifts and swiftlets are found all over the inhabited words, i.e., anywhere that flying insects are available for “eating on the fly”. Consider these illustrative examples: Black Swift (all over North America, from Canada to Costa Rica and Brazil), White-fronted Swift (forests in Mexico), Great Dusky Swift (many forests of South America), Sooty Swift (many forests of South America), White-chinned Swift (Central and South America), Cave Swiftlet (caves and woods of India, Indonesia, and Malaysia), Himalayan Swiftlet (common to the Himalayan range and Southeast Asia) — just to list a few. One of the rarest swifts is the Seychelles Swiftlet (a subspecies or cousin of the smaller Mascarene Swiftlet of Mauritius and Reunion (both being east-of-Madagascar islands in the Indian Ocean). The Seychelles Swift is found only on the Seychelles Islands east of Africa (and north of Madagascar), in the Indian Ocean. (See postage stamp – public domain image)

seychellesswift-postage

SEYCHELLES  SWIFTLET       [public domain]

An even rarer swiftlet is the Atiu Swiftlet, endemic to the small island of Atiu (in the Cook Islands archipelago). That cave-loving swiftlet has been described in connection with appreciating Gospel Days in the Cook Islands.

 

Atiu Swiftlet (Aerodramus sawtelli a.k.a Kopeka)

Atiu Swiftlet (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now back to the COMMON SWIFT, such as those who circled the air near the rooftops of Old Town, Tallinn (Estonia), that summer afternoon in AD2006.

The Common Swift’s visible physical and behavioral traits have been aptly summarized by the co-authors whose bird-book I used on that summer afternoon in Tallinn:

 Dark, scythe-winged aerial feeder seen careening through sky in characteristic noisy, screaming parties. Flies in lower airspace early and late in day [when flying insects are out and about], and in wet weather. Spends virtually entire life … on the wing, coming to land only to nest. Larger than Barn Swallow, unlike which it never perches on wires or vegetation. Adult [has] uniform blackish-brown plumage relieved only by whitish chin. Very long, narrow, swept-back wings and [relatively] fat, cigar-shaped body give illusion that bird is bigger than it really is. Clearly forked tail lacks Swallow’s streamers and is often held tightly closed. Bill tiny. Sexes alike; similar juvenile has narrow pale feather edgings.

Nest colonially beneath eaves of buildings, less often in caves or hollow trees.

Enters site at breakneck speed and is only rarely seen perched below, clinging to walls with tiny legs and feet (unusually, all four toes face forwards).  Breeds commonly in built-up areas, but travels huge distances to feed. Typically seen in parties of 10—100 birds, but congregates in massive swarms on spring and autumn migration, especially over wetlands and reservoirs. Flight action varied: either very fast with twinkling wingbeats or slower, with sudden flurries of wingbeats and glides on wings stiffly outstretched and slightly bowed down. Jinks, rises and falls with quick flick of wings and briefly spread tail as it gulps insect prey in [relatively] huge, gaping mouth.

Shrill, piercing screaming call, sree, is the essence of warm summer evenings.

[Quoting Chris Kightley, Steve Madge, & Dave Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (Yale University Press, 1998), page 174.]

And what kind of town is Estonia’s Tallinn? It is the main port and capital of Estonia, a land weary of foreign occupations.

tallinn-oldtown-estonia

Old Town, Tallinn, Estonia (photo credit: Wikipedia)

The native Estonians (who maybe felt like helpful bugs, trying to escape hungry predators), century after century, has been parasitized (and preyed upon) by many opportunists who — like busy Common Swifts — swiftly (or sometimes slowly) inserted themselves onto Estonia’s Baltic coastland, sometimes colonizing and sometimes content with controlling the flow of trade.

A quick [i.e., “swift”] summary of Estonia’s serial occupations by neighboring armies follows. Perhaps the reader can consider these back-and-forth conquests of the Estonian lands, and imagine how the “caught-in-the-middle” Estonians, of generation after generation after generation, lived, as their land changed from colony to battlefield to colony, etc.

Estonia’s sequence of political phases may be condensed to 24 episodes, namely: (1) the Viking era … (800s through 1200); (2) wars with Germany’s Bishop Albert of Livonia and the Sword Brethren (1208-1227); (3) Denmark intervenes and begins to rule Tallinn [from taani linn, meaning “Dane fort”, with the city continuing to be called by its German name, “Reval”], due to Danish King Valdemar II’s conquest … [resulting in] Estonia being occupied by a mix of Danes and Germans by 1220); (4) political decline of the ethnic-German “Sword Brethren” of Livonia, due to Lithuanian militarism … followed by merger of the Livonian Sword Brethren with Prussia’s Teutonic Knights [as Lithuania flourished]; (5) Danish-German domination of Estonia [with the Hanseatic League controlling Estonia’s economy] ; (6) decline of the militaristic Prussian Teutonic Knights, due to Russian militarism aided by Estonian and Latvian conscripted soldiers … [e.g., Alexandr Nevskii’s “Battle on the Ice” victory in AD1242]; (7) political association with, and domination by, the plutocratic “super-merchants” of Germany’s Hanseatic League (with Lübeck Law adopted for Tallinn in 1248, with Tallinn’s trade featuring Estonian rye [!], barley, oats, honey, bearskins and other furs, exchanged for imported herring, salt, precious metals, and clothing materials); (8) Danish relinquishment of troublesome Estonia (prompted by the bloody Jüriöö Mäss rebellion of 1343-1345 … resulting in Denmark’s “sale” of Estonia to the Prussian Teutonic Knights in 1346 … [so Estonia and Latvia were ruled by ethnic-Germans form the mid-AD1300s through the mid-AD1400s]; (9) Old Livonia declines, as Prussia’s Teutonic Knights decline, due to military defeats [e.g., Tannenberg, in AD1410] by the rising empire of Poland-Lithuania … {and Russia unsuccessfully tries, in AD1502, to grab Estonia from Poland-Lithuania]; (10) Estonia is touched by the Reformation, with Luther’s “use-of-the-language-of-the-common-people” policy beginning to change Estonia, planting the first seeds of Estonian cultural identity restoration (Reformation first arrives in Estonia during the 1520s; 1525 sees first book printed in Estonian language [and during that year Walter von Plettenburg, Rome’s “Master of the Livonian Order”, converts to Lutheran Christianity, heavily impacting the launching of the Protestant Reformation in Estonia]; first-Estonian-language church services in the 1530s); (11) the Livonian Wars (1558-1583) reveal Russia’s ambitions for the Baltic lands … followed by Estonia being “sold” to Denmark, who opposed the Russians (1560); (12) Old Livonia disintegrates, as the Swedes arrive to oppose Russia, and Tallinn becomes a Swedish land … (1561); (13) meanwhile, the Livonian lands south of Tallinn become Polish possessions (1561); (14) Livonian resistance to Russia, well into the mid-1500s, permitted the Germany-based Reformation to take root among the Estonian people (often aided by Swedish military action, combined with Lutheran education reforms led by Swedes, Germans, and Finns … for example, Tartu University [was founded] by Swedish King Gustav Adolphus, in 1632, to promote Lutheran education and culture); (15) Russia competed with Sweden for Estonia … complicated by Poland joining the fray (in 1579), resulting in Sweden successfully holding onto Estonia [AD1586]; (16) however, Sweden and Russia resumed war in the 1590s … as tension between Sweden and Poland, regarding who gets Estonia, continued to rise; (17) Sweden continued to dominate the Baltic lands … (from 1600-1629), somewhat resolved by the “Peace of Altmark” [AD1629]; (18) Denmark increased its ascendancy in the region … Denmark’s remaining portion of Estonia [i.e., Saaremaa] was transferred to Sweden (1645); (19) [Estonia suffers, due to war-ravaged agriculture] the Great Hunger of the 1690s (1695-1697); (20) Sweden’s domination in the Baltic [is lost in] the “Great Northern War” of 1700-1721 (with the last fighting of this war, on Estonian soil, occurring in 1710); (21) 300+ years of domination by Russia, with the last portion (from the mid-1800s onward) seeing a growth of national patriotism and a recovered sense of the Estonian language and cultural identity (1710-1918); (22) the first taste of Estonian independence (1918-1940); (23) interrupted by Soviet Russia’s re-conquest and cultural suppression of Estonia (1940-1991); and (24) Estonia’s post-Soviet experience of national independence [which was triggered by Estonia’s “Singing Revolution”], which is ongoing (1991 to present).

[Quoting James J. S. Johnson, “Heritage Highlights: Estonia”, BALTIC HERITAGE REVIEW (June AD2006), pages 2-4.] Surely you became weary (if not also wary), if you actually read all of that listing of 2-dozen political turnovers (flying over 12 centuries of political history), so imagine what native Estonians must feel like – having been occupied and re-occupied by foreigners, generation after generation.

Maybe the Estonians feel like little flying insects, the easy-prey targets for ever-hungry (and fleet-flying) Swifts, coming at them, from all directions, chasing what could have been tranquility from Tallinn’s lower airspace.

tallinn-olafkirk-olevistekirik-estonia

Olaf’s Church   [Oleviste kirik]   in Tallinn:
Roman Catholic, later Lutheran, now Baptist
(photo credit: Wikipedia)

And that description well fits the memory that I still retain, of the speedy, quick-turning, aerial acrobatics  —  of noisy Common Swifts  —  that I saw near the rooflines and rooftops of the ancient-looking building in Tallinn’s Old Town, likely displaying what those same birds’ ancestors did centuries before, when Tallinn (then called “Reval”) was an old Hanseatic League trading port city.

When it comes to bird behavior, some things don’t change all that much. Of course, European trade has now returned to the old Hanseatic port-city of Reval – or Tallinn (as it is called today, and has been for centuries) — and much of that trade comes today in the form of cruise ship passengers and European Union commerce.

If you are ever in the neighborhood (of Tallinn), check it out; there is a lot of history to see there, and to appreciate, as you think about what all has occurred there, century after century.  So visit Tallinn at a relaxed pace – don’t just whizz by, like a Common Swift.

tallinn-port-cruiseships-estonia

Tallinn port, where cruise ships visit Estonia (photo credit: Wikipedia)

But this nostalgic report began with a quote from Psalm 100, about singing.  There is one habit that the Estonians are especially famous for, maybe moreso than any other habit – despite their long years (and centuries) of being suppressed as a Baltic people, they never gave up their songs.

estonia-singers-folk-costumes

Estonian choir in Tallinn
(photo credit: JJSJ in AD2006, actually a photo of a large sign in Tallinn)

Estonians love to sing, especially in their own native Estonian language. And now, years after the tense days of Estonia’s “Singing Revolution”, they can sing with a freedom that is relatively new to their land. May God bless them – and may He keep their songs in their hearts, as they look up to Him  — because He alone is the ultimate Giver of all good songs, even the diverse songs (and chirps, and other vocal noises) of the busy feathered creatures whom we call “songbirds”.

And may each of us, who has the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Redeemer, live each day with a song in our hearts, singing with grace and gratitude (Colossians 3:16).

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. (Psalm 98:4)

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More From James J. S. Johnson

Apodidae – Swifts Family

Birds of the Bible – Swifts

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If Dogs Could Fly: More than Wings are Needed for Flying High!

If Dogs Could Fly:  More than Wings are Needed for Flying High!

 ~ by James J. S. Johnson

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.   (Genesis 1:20)

God made wings for animals – like birds, insects, and bats – to fly.  (In the case of penguins, they fly underwater!)  But it takes more that wings to fly high: ask a Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus), who migrates over the Himalayas!

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus)

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus)

But what about dogs – and humans?

If dogs were meant to fly—apart from aircraft—they would have bodies designed for heavier-than-air flying.  Also, for dogs to fly at altitudes so high that oxygen is a problem, they need bodies designed for breathing at thin-air elevations.  These facts are illustrated by an amazing German shepherd, Antis, who flew combat missions, during 1940-1945, at altitudes up to 16,000 feet.(1)

But who was Antis, and how did he survive flying in oxygen-starved altitudes?

Antis was an Alsatian German shepherd, rescued as a starved-almost-to-death newborn puppy, by a Czechoslovakian pilot named Václav “Robert” Bozdĕch. Robert flew during World War II, first for France, and later for England—as part of the Royal Air Force’s 311 (Czechoslovack) Squadron.  (In fact, how Robert smuggled Antis from France through Gibraltar into England is itself an amazing adventure.)

British Air Ministry regulations prohibited dogs flying on combat missions, of course, but Antis hated to be “grounded” if that meant being separated from Robert.  During June 1941 Antis took matters into his own paws, quietly disappearing when Robert readied for a bombing mission over Bremen, a German port city (known for its strategic military activities).  Antis quietly hid inside the Vickers Wellington bomber where Robert served as turret gunner.

Wellington bombers flew at altitudes as high as 16,000 feet, so air crews wore oxygen masks, to compensate for the oxygen-thin air at that high altitude.  But no one had equipped Antis for such oxygen-thin conditions!  Robert concerned himself with the crew’s mission, bombing Bremen’s oil refinery, till his attention was distracted by someone nudging his elbow:  Antis!

Antis must have somehow crept aboard the aircraft and stowed away, being careful to remain hidden until [Robert’s airplane] was almost over her target.  Recovering from the shock, Robert tried to take in all that he was seeing. His dog’s flanks were heaving, his lungs desperate for breath, which was very likely why he’d alerted Robert to his presence.  They were climbing to 16,000 feet and Antis was having increasing trouble breathing in the thin, oxygen-starved atmosphere. (1)

How could Robert save Antis?

WWII pilot Václav “Robert” Bozdĕch --- and his faithful dog, Antis

WWII pilot Václav “Robert” Bozdĕch — and his faithful dog, Antis

Antis needed to inhale concentrated oxygen, immediately, but so did Robert, at least until the plane descended to a lower elevation.

Taking a massive gasp himself, Robert unstrapped the oxygen mask from his face, bent, and pressed it firmly over his dog’s muzzle.  He watched anxiously as the dog took a few deep breaths of life-giving oxygen, before eventually his breathing seemed to settle down to something normal.(1)

Meanwhile Robert busied himself with his duties as turret gunner, wearing the spare radio headset, since his oxygen mask strappings contained his usual headset.

The mask contained [Robert’s] main radio pickup, and he could only imagine that he and his dog were going to have to share oxygen for the remainder of the flight.  A few moments later he heard a squelch of static in his earpiece, signifying that someone was coming up on the air [intercom].  “Robert, have you gone to sleep down there?” Capka, their pilot, queried. “No. Why?” Robert replied. “Sounds like you’re snoring your head off. What’s going on if you’re not snoozing?”(1)

It was Antis’ canine breathing that was being broadcast through the airplane’s intercom, due to the microphone attached to the oxygen mask.  Meanwhile, the flight became more hazardous.

They began their bombing run at 15,000 feet, an altitude where the dog needed the oxygen.  Robert had no option but to continue operating without it, for he couldn’t keep switching the mask with his dog.  He needed his hands free to operate the guns.  At first he seemed to cope just fine, but then his heart started to race and beads of sweat were breaking out on his forehead.(1)

Antiaircraft fire exploded nearby, bombs dropped from Robert’s plane, and Messerschmitt fighters tried to shoot the British Wellington fighter-bomber out of the night sky.   But, eventually (at the successful close of the mission, thanks to God’s providence), Robert and his air crew mates – and Antis — successfully returned to their home base.  Of course, Antis’ stowaway antics were by then no secret.  Wing Commander Josef Ocelka, 311 Squadron’s commanding officer, liked Antis—but sharing an oxygen mask during future bombing raids was unacceptable. The solution? A doggie oxygen mask, specially tailored for Antis.

[Antis’ oxygen mask] consisted of a standard pilot’s mask, cut and modified to suit a German shepherd’s long and slender snout, as opposed to the flatter, boxier face of a human. The mask attached to his head with a special set of straps that ran around the back of his thick and powerful neck, with extra fastenings latching on to his collar.  Antis didn’t particularly like the thing, but he proved happy enough to wear it so long as Robert was wearing his.(1)

Antis continued to have many death-defying adventures, during the war, as Robert’s loyal dog.  But, thanks to his canine oxygen mask, at high elevations Antis no longer needed to share an oxygen mask with Robert.

Obviously, Antis was not born with the capacity to survive oxygen-starved altitudes without the help of an oxygen mask—and it requires purposeful design and clever engineering to equip dogs like Antis for such high-altitude conditions.

And so we can (and should) marvel at the creative genius and technical problem-solving that achieved a solution to Antis’ need for high-altitude oxygen.  But what about animals—like many high-flying birds—that have no such oxygen mask? How can they survive elevations like 15,000 (or higher) without an oxygen mask?

Bar-headed Goose Flying

Bar-headed Goose

What kind of birds, soaring or migrating, fly at such oxygen-scarce altitudes?

High fliers include Bar-headed Geese, which cross the Himalayas at heights up to 29,500 feet [9,000 m] as they travel between the mountain lakes of central Asia and their winter homes along the Indus [River] valley, India.  A flock of 30 Whooper Swans en route from Iceland to western Europe was logged by a pilot at 27,000 feet [8,230 m].  Mallards have reached 21,000 feet [6,400 m], Bar-tailed Godwits 19,865 feet [6,000 m] and White Storks 15,750 feet [4,800 m] on migration.(2)

Some birds, amazingly, can even soar at 36,000 feet (~11,000 meters)!

How can we know that?

A combination of empirical science (i.e., direct observation) and forensic science (physical remains that show causality events).

Rupell's Griffon ©Telegraph

Rupell’s Griffon ©Telegraph

Specifically, a griffon-vulture, called the Rüpell’s Griffon, collided with an airplane, at that altitude, over Côte d’Ivoire, Africa.

On November 1973, an aircraft collided with a bird at a good 11000 m [meters] above the Ivory Coast in Africa.  The bird wrecked one of the aircraft’s engines, though the plane managed to land without further mishap.  Feather remains in the wrecked engine showed that the bird was a Rüppel’s Vulture.(3)

And other high-flying migrants are known to fly the friendly skies as well:

The impact of even a single goose on a jet airliner can be disastrous … [so] observers south of Canada’s Winnipeg airport monitor the northward progress of Lesser Snow Geese and warn air-traffic controllers of their approach.  If necessary, the airport can be closed down for hours, or occasionally days, during the peak of [their] migration.(4)

Bird Species Height They Fly
But what difference does it make, to us, when the atmosphere is oxygen-scarce?  How are air-breathing humans and animals affected when the oxygen is “thin”?

The highest-lying permanent settlements, in the Andes and in Tibet, are situated at just above 5000 m. [16,400 feet].  Not even people belonging to these mountain communities would be able to survive more than a few hours in the oxygen-deficient air above 8000 m. [26,200 feet].  The oxygen content of the air is about 21%, independent of altitude, in the troposphere; the oxygen pressure consequently decreases in parallel with the decreasing air pressure at increasing altitude. At 6000 m [20,000 feet] the oxygen pressure is only half what it is at sea-surface level; at 8000 m [26,200 feet] it is a third of that[,] and at 10,000 m [32,800 feet] only a quarter. The ability of birds to stay alive at high altitudes is explained by the [comprehensive] fact that they have a more efficient respiratory system than mammals.(5)

But how are birds able to breathe in such oxygen-starved conditions?

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) by Lee LPZ

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) by Lee LPZ

What they have—thanks to their Creator—is much more efficient that Antis’ custom-made oxygen mask!

A bird’s lungs function according to the through-flow principle: the inspired [inhaled] air collects in the bird’s posterior air-sacs and flows through the lungs to the anterior air-sacs before it passes back out. In the lungs the blood is oxygenated by fine air capillaries, where air and blood flow in opposite directions. Owing to this counterflow, the oxygenated blood that leaves the bird lung acquires a higher oxygen concentration than that corresponding to the oxygen pressure in the expired [exhaled] air.(5)

Also, bird hearts are proportionately larger to their bodies than those of mammals—from 0.8 to 1.5% of its total body mass, compared to mammals (averaging around 0.6%), enabling speedy blood transport and intensive oxygen renewal.(5)

So, is the “flow-through principle” basically all that there is, to why birds can breathe at higher altitudes,   —   or is it even more complicated than that?

In fact, the technical aspects of how oxygen is acquired and consumed, by high-flying birds, is more marvelous than is easy to describe, as this succinct-yet-technical summary indicates:

Birds that fly at high altitudes must support vigorous exercise in oxygen-thin environments.  …  [There is an interactive combination of bioengineering] characteristics that help high fliers [to] sustain the high rates of metabolism needed for flight at [such] elevation.  Many traits in the O2 transport pathway distinguish birds in general from other vertebrates.  These include enhanced gas-exchange efficiency in the lungs, maintenance of O2 delivery and oxygenation in the brain during hypoxia, augmented O2 diffusion capacity in peripheral tissues and a high aerobic capacity.  …  The distinctive features of high fliers include an enhanced hypoxic ventilator response, an effective breathing pattern, larger lungs [proportionately speaking], hæmoglobin with a higher O2 affinity, further augmentation of O2 diffusion capacity in the periphery and multiple alterations in the metabolic properties of cardiac and skeletal muscle.  These unique specializations improve the uptake, circulation and efficient utilization of O2 during high-altitude hypoxia.  High-altitude birds also have larger wings than their lowland relatives[,] to reduce the metabolic costs of staying aloft in low-density air.  High fliers are therefore unique in many ways ….(6)

If all of that sounds complicated it is because it is – very complicated.  But in order for birds to successfully fly at high elevations it was necessary for God to design and install bioengineering features that would succeed in such thin air.  And, because God did not provide such physiologies for dogs – such as Alsatian German Shepherds (like Antis) – it was needful for Antis to have his own oxygen mask, for those times when Antis flew in oxygen-scarce altitudes.

So, three cheers for the East Wretham fitters, who custom-fit a canine oxygen mask, for Antis’ high-altitude breathing!  Also, proper credit is surely due to Vickers-Armstrongs (Aircraft) Ltd., the manufacturer of the Wellington bomber that Robert and Antis flew in.

Yet how much moreso should we cheer and extol our Creator-God, for how He designed and constructed high-flying birds,(7) with respiratory physiologies that need no manmade airplanes or oxygen masks!    Yes, “the heavens declare the glory of God”(8)  —  and so do the birds he made to fly in those skies, even the skies that are so high that others, flying there, need oxygen masks!

References

  1. Damien Lewis, The Dog Who Could Fly (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2015), pages 178-180, 187.
  2. Jonathan Elphick, ed., Atlas on Bird Migration: Tracing the Great Journeys of the World’s Birds (Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2011), page 23.
  3. Thomas Alerstam, Bird Migration (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993), page 276.
  4. Elphick, Atlas of Bird Migration, page 123.
  5. Alerstam, Bird Migration, page 277.
  6. Graham R. Scott, “Elevated Performance: The Unique Physiology of Birds that Fly at High Altitudes”, Journal of Experimental Biology, 214(15):2455-2463 (August 2011); Douglas L. Altshuler & Robert Dudley, “The Physiology and Biomechanics of Avian Flight at High Altitude”, Integrative and Comparative Biology, 46(1):62-71 (2006).
  7. Job 39:26.
  8. 8. Psalm 19:1.
Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) ©Bruce Moffat Photography

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) ©Fair Use credit: Bruce Moffat Photography

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus)

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James J. S. Johnson

Orni-Theology

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