GOLDEN EAGLE [photo credit: THE SCOTTISH BANNER, November AD2022]
“Does the hawk fly by your wisdom, and spread its wings toward the south? Does the eagle mount up at your command, and make its nest on high? On the rock it dwells and resides, on the crag of the rock and the stronghold. From there it spies out the prey; its eyes observe from afar.”
It’s time for some good news—Golden eagles, thanks to some successfully relocated from the Outer Hebrides, are making a comeback in southern Scotland! Consider this happy report from the online November (AD2022) issue of THE SCOTTISH BANNER:
The pioneering South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project has become the first in the UK to successfully translocate free-flying young golden eagles (aged between 6 months and 3 years) to boost a low population of this iconic bird. These new additions bring the total number of golden eagles in the south of Scotland to around 33 – the highest number recorded here in the last three centuries. Taking a new research approach, under licence from NatureScot, the team leading the ground-breaking charity project revealed that they had successfully caught, transported and released seven golden eagles from the Outer Hebrides. . . .
The Outer Hebrides were selected as the source to boost the south of Scotland population because these Islands host one of the highest densities of golden eagles in Europe. The birds were released almost immediately on arrival in a secret location in the southern uplands of Scotland. The project team is continuing to monitor the birds’ progress to see if they settle and breed in the area. If they do, this could be a ground-breaking for the project.
Francesca Osowska, NatureScot’s Chief Executive, said: “This ground-breaking project has accomplished so much over just a few years, bringing a viable population of golden eagles back to south Scotland . . . it’s wonderful to see a success like this. Golden eagles are a vital part of Scotland’s wildlife, and we’re passionate about returning them to places where they used to thrive. . . .”
[Quoting Staff writer, “South of Scotland Golden Eagle Population Reaches New Heights Thanks to Novel Research Technique”, THE SCOTTISH BANNER, November AD2022.]
For extra explanation about how eagles fly—thanks to God’s bioengineering design and construction of these heavy-bodied (and often-soaring) birds—review my online article titled “Hawks and eagles Launching Skyward”, ACTS & FACTS, 47(4):21 (April 2018), posted at www.icr.org/article/hawks-eagles-launching-skyward — noting that the same Hebrew verb [paras], which is used to describe raptor birds’ wing-spread in Job 39:26, is likewise used in Isaiah 33:23 to describe how boat-sails are spread out to catch (and thus harness the power of) the wind.
God taught the patriarch Job a lot about His creation in the “nature sermon” (filled with rhetorical questions) in Job 38–41. God used examples of wildlife to illustrate His wise and caring providence. In particular, He challenged Job to appreciate how and why hawks and eagles fly high in the skies above, looking far and wide for earthbound food. . . .
Some who read Job 39:26 assume hawk migration is the question’s topic. But because God compares the hawk’s aerial behavior to eagle flight, the context suggests otherwise. Both raptors require special aerodynamics to lift their heavy bodies into the air. God designed these raptors to utilize weather-powered “elevators” to ascend into air currents. . . .
Rising hot-air currents routinely blow in from south of Israel, so hawks can “catch a ride” simply by stretching out their wings southward, just as sailors harness wind to power boats at sea. Gliding and soaring on extended wings reduces air resistance as well as the hawk’s need to burn energy by flapping.
Likewise, when God commands wind to blow, eagles can “mount up” (literally, “cause to fly”) upon rising thermal air currents—as if they were elevators—and glide almost effortlessly until they spy food far below with their super-powerful distance vision.
GOLDEN EAGLE in Cairngorms Park, Scotland (Peter Cairns / NATUREPL.COM photo credit)
Eagles are majestic birds famous for nesting in high places (Obadiah 1:4), moving through the air in marvelous maneuvering movements (Proverbs 30:19), energized and powered by God’s sustaining enablements (Isaiah 40:31).
When I think of eagles—both golden eagles and bald eagles, or any other kind of eagles—and contemplate what God has put into these magnificent birds, I think of the old doxological hymn HOW GREAT THOU ART!
Bar-Tailed Godwit’s Migration Sets Nonstop Mileage Marathon Record, for Aerial Flapping Flight Over the Pacific Ocean
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.
It seems that nonstop flying, over thousands of miles of ocean, is not limited to Boeing 747s — just ask an over-the-ocean-flying migratory Bar-tailed Godwit, a long-hauling tough-traveling sandpiper known to scientists as Limosa lapponica.
Tagging juvenile BAR-TAILED GODWIT “B6” on July 15th AD2022, near Nome, Alaska
(Photo credit: Dan Ruthrauff / U.S. Geological Survey)
Yet some scientists have recently documented the ecological advantages to such seasonal migratory flights, even when those aerial migrations include staggeringly long nonstop over-the-ocean wing-flapping flights:
Mountain ranges, deserts, ice fields and oceans generally act as barriers to the movement of land-dependent animals, often profoundly shaping migration routes. [This study] used satellite telemetry to track the southward flights of bar-tailed godwits (Limosa lapponica baueri), shorebirds whose breeding and nonbreeding areas are separated by the vast central Pacific Ocean. Seven females with surgically implanted transmitters flew non-stop 8117–11680 km … directly across the Pacific Ocean; two males with external transmitters flew non-stop along the same corridor for 7008–7390 km. Flight duration ranged from 6.0 to 9.4 days … for birds with implants and 5.0 to 6.6 days for birds with externally attached transmitters…. [It seems] that this transoceanic route may function as an ecological corridor rather than a barrier, providing a wind-assisted passage relatively free of pathogens and predators.
(quoting Gill et al., cited below)
[Quoting from Robert E. Gill, Jr., T. Lee Tibbitts, et al., “Extreme Endurance Flights by Landbirds Crossing the Pacific Ocean: Ecological Corridor Rather than Barrier?” PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B, 276:447-457 (posted online October 29th AD2008.]
BAR-TAILED GODWIT in breeding plumage (photo credit: Wikipedia/Andreas Trepte)
This is not the first time that ornithologist Robert E. Gill, Jr. has reported on the tremendous treks of Bar-tailed Godwits migrating southwardly from Alaska to New Zealand and Eastern Australia. [See Robert E. Gill, Jr., Theunis Piersma, et al., “Crossing the Ultimate Ecological Barrier: Evidence for an 11000-km-Long Nonstop Flight from Alaska to New Zealand and Eastern Australia by Bar-tailed Godwits”, THE CONDOR, 107(1):1-20 (February 2005), noting that observations indicate that the Alaska-based Bar-tailed Godwits “migrate directly across the Pacific, a distance of 11 000 km” and that they do so “in a single flight without stopping to rest or refuel”.]
In short, these birds know how to use wind currents to their advantage—which is not news to Bible readers, especially to those who have considered the thermal air currents referred to in Job 39:26-29, which says:
Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south? Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place. From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off.
God designed and made bird wings. Bird wings, almost without exception, were designed for winds. (Penguins, of course, are exceptions—their wings were designed for underwater “flying”.) For a technical study that documents how important winds are for wings—of Bar-tailed Godwits—see Jesse R. Conklin & Phil F. Battley, “Impacts of Wind on Individual Migration Schedules of New Zealand Bar-tailed Godwits”, BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY, 22(4):854-861 (June 2011), documenting how some Bar-tailed Godwits time their departure dates to maximize harnessing helpful wind currents for nonstop flying migrations.
On the Pacific Ocean side of the globe, these phenological patterns are conspicuously exhibited in the migrations of wading shorebirds, such as skinny-legged sandpipers, who flap their wings in flight (as opposed to relying mostly on gliding). But one such migratory sandpiper—the Bar-tailed Godwit, takes wing-flapping flight to the maximum!
BAR-TAILED GODWIT, in flight over the ocean
(photo credit: Wikipedia/Paul van de Velde)
In particular, the New Zealand-breeding subspecies of that marathon-migrating wading bird (Limosa lapponica baueri), has been making ornithology news, again, this year. But before considering this year’s news, consider news about Bar-tailed Gotwits from last year:
On September 28, one small bird completed a very long flight. An adult, male Bar-tailed Godwit, known by its tag number 4BBRW, touched down in New South Wales, Australia, after more than 8,100 miles in transit from Alaska —flapping its wings for 239 hours without rest, and setting the world record for the longest continual flight by any land bird by distance. And 4BBRW isn’t even done yet. In the next few days, the Godwit is expected to end its southbound migration in New Zealand after its well-earned island stopover, says Adrian Riegen, a builder from West Auckland [New Zealand] and a passionate birdwatcher.
From his home office, usually reserved for managing building projects, Riegen keeps tabs on 4BBRW and 19 other Bar-tailed Godwits fitted with solar-powered location trackers. During migration season, he spends at least an hour each morning going through the most recent location data and writes a daily report for the ongoing project, run by the Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Center, an education and research nonprofit in Miranda, New Zealand, where many Godwits spend non-breeding months. All of the best tidbits he compiles are disseminated to the center’s followers on Facebook and Twitter, so that people can follow along with the birds’ cross-hemisphere, trans-oceanic journeys—speed bumps and all. “It’s such an amazing story,” Riegen says. “We want to share it as widely as we can.”
Although 4BBRW’s feat is astounding, it may not be particularly surprising. Bar-tailed Godwits are incredible migrants: Individuals have broken the “longest, non-stop, migration” record more than once since satellite tracking began in 2007 and regularly make continuous flights of more than 7,000 miles.
In fact, 4BBRW previously held the world record for his 2020 flight of 7,580 miles. And just three days before 4BBRW’s 2021 touch-down, a female godwit, tagged 4BYWW, completed a trip of a similar distance that was briefly considered the record. While multiple subspecies of Bar-tailed Godwit make long distance journeys around the world, the New Zealand-Alaska population travels the farthest in its migration loop. “It’s this thing of imagination and magic that we have in this world, to think this tiny little bird traveled thousands of miles,” says Audubon Alaska executive director Natalie Dawson.
Unlike albatross or other long-flying seabirds, godwits are active flyers [a/k/a “flappers”], not gliders—their wings are moving the whole time. “It just beggars belief, really,” Riegen says. “I mean, though I’ve known that for decades now, I still find it hard to imagine how anything can keep up that sort of effort 24-hours a day, without taking a break.”
With that impressive background we can appreciate the latest news about the long-distance nonstop migration of this tough-travelling shorebird:
This [October] is the time of year when Alaska’s migratory birds uproot and move to warmer places. But one shorebird in particular made history this past week after it was tracked flying thousands of miles nonstop [calculated as 8,425 or perhaps 8,435 aerial miles!] to the southern hemisphere, drawing international attention and potentially giving scientists new insight into the future of a declining population of shorebirds.
Earlier this week [at the end of October AD2022], a bar-tailed godwit, tagged as “B6″, completed its migration from the Western Alaska coast to Southern Australia, a non-stop journey of nearly 8,500 miles completed in 11 days. …
The center of attention: a four-month-old shorebird weighing just 600 grams — a little more than a pound, or slightly heavier than a can of beans. The journey, tracked for the first time using a real-time solar-powered transmitter, is being described as a world record.
Lee Tibbitts, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center, has been researching these birds for decades and was part of the team that began observational studies about 40 years ago, before technology enabled satellite tracking.
Prior to this work, nobody really believed that nonstop migration across the Pacific Ocean was possible, said Dan Ruthrauff, a USGS research wildlife biologist who helped tag B6.
B6 is the first tagged Alaska-breeding bar-tailed godwit chick whose migration was successfully tracked. Not only did it complete its migration, but it flew nearly 1,600 miles farther than its species’typical migration route from Alaska to New Zealand –– something Ruthrauff hypothesizes could have been a result of strong easterly winds.
“They don’t land on the water. They don’t glide. This is flapping flight for a week and a half,” he said.
The chick [Bar-tailed Godwit identified as “B6”] was just one of three that was fitted with a transmitter this summer. The other two transmitters are still sending signals from the tundra on the Seward Peninsula. Ruthrauff guesses that they were too loose and fell off the birds before their migration.
The transmitter, attached using surgical-grade silicon tubing, weighs just five grams and fits like a fanny pack, Ruthrauff said. The antenna trails off from the bird’s tail and is fitted with a solar panel. Once fitted with the transmitter, all that was left for Ruthrauff and his team to do was to wait.
During that time, B6 moved to its staging area on the Kuskokwim Delta and stayed there for about six weeks, fattening up on clams, worms and berries for the trip –– much like a bear getting ready for hibernation. “It’s pretty crazy how much bigger they get,” Ruthrauff said. “It’s mostly just fat –– little butter balls.”
In preparation for the trip, these birds increase the size of their gizzard, stomach, kidney, liver and length of their intestine in order to metabolize the foods that they’re eating, Ruthrauff said. As they approach time to migrate, the digestive tract begins to atrophy while their heart and pectoral muscles increase in size.
Bar-tailed godwit chicks migrate without their adult counterparts and are known to take advantage of weather systems along their route.
Set up with a “smokin’” tailwind, B6 departed Alaska on Oct. 12. (quoting Mesner, cited below)
[Quoting Emily Mesner, ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS, posted October 31st AD2022, at news.yahoo.com/juvenile-shorebird-tagged-alaska…]
A map showing the migration route of bar-tailed godwit, B6.
(Image credit: courtesy of Jesse Conklin/Max Planck Institute of Ornithology)
Providentially, Godwit B6 arrived safely on October 23rd of AD2022, in Eastern Australia. What an exhausting nonstop trip!
The obvious take-away lesson, from this astounding journey, is that the southward migration of Alaska’s Bar-tailed Godwits cannot be the product of random trail-and-error experiments by birds trying to “evolve” in a supposedly “survival-of-the-fittest” world, as imagined by evolutionists.
Rather, these brave birds can only survive and thrive in this world, the real world that the Holy Bible perfectly describes, because God has carefully and caringly provided these wing-flapping migrants with whatever they need to succeed—and they do, thanks to their (and our) Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ!
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.
BAR-TAILED GODWIT over-wintering plumage, Australia