Albatrosses and Chickens:  Odd Examples of Avian Self-Defense

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

Matthew 23:37
protective mother hen with chicks [International English Bible photo credit]

The Lord Jesus Christ once compared Himself, as a caring refuge to those who are at risk of mortal danger, to a poultry hen who protects her baby chicks with her own body. Many might under-estimate the toughness of a mother hen, when protecting her chicks, including one ill-fated fox noted below. But ,before considering such protective hens, an odd example of albatross self-defense is given below.

Self-defense can be asserted in many ways, but Southern Ocean albatrosses(1),(2) and French chickens(3)  provide odd illustrations of the old saying that “truth is sometimes stranger than fiction”.

WANDERING ALBATROSS showing wingspan ( > 9 feet ), Jaap Vink photo credit

First, the Wandering Albatross is an unintentional example—this is the same wide-winged bird that ICR recently reported as harnessing the wild winds that flow above the ocean waves near Antarctica.(4) Also, this illustration involves recklessly greedy and wasteful overfishing in international waters— a perennial problem previously reported by ICR.(5),(6)    After that, an illustration of chicken self-defense toughness.

On behalf of BBC News, Samantha Patrick reported on her satellite-related data-logging albatrosses, who spy on ocean-faring fish-poaching pirates who, ironically, are routinely guilty of harming albatrosses as by-catch casualties.(1)  The spy-like surveillance program began, she says, as an attempt to track the albatrosses who were vulnerable to fishing bycatch risks in the open ocean.

SEABIRDS congregating at fishing nets [Alessandro de Maddalena/Shutterstock image credit]

So many of these birds were dying as a result of getting caught in fishing lines that researchers started studying the overlap between albatrosses and fishing boats. Understanding where the birds came into contact with fisheries, and which birds followed boats the most, helped explain which parts of the population were most at risk of bycatch. It’s possible to map the distribution of boats using data transmitted from onboard monitoring systems, but these records are often only available around land and rarely in real time. … To try another approach, my colleagues and I developed data loggers that could be attached to an albatross. The logger detects the radar of boats, collecting information on where boats are in real time. The loggers took years to perfect and I can still remember the excitement of getting the first one back that had successfully detected a boat’s radar.(1)

[see Patrick cite below]

The high-tech surveillance provided by these wide-winged investigators enables treaty enforcers to locate those fishing boats who furtively poach in international waters, and who often recklessly endangering seabirds as by-catch casualties.

The wandering albatross can fly 10,000 km in a month, making these tireless birds ideal agents to catch the very same fish pirates that are killing albatrosses.  … They can fly 8.5 million kilometres (5.2 million miles) during their lifetimes – the equivalent of flying to the Moon and back more than 10 times. Their 3.5m wingspan is the same length as a small car and they can weigh as much as 24 puffins. Their body shape means they can effortlessly glide over the ocean waves, flying in some of the strongest winds on Earth. Now researchers have found that these seabirds may have promising careers in the fight against overfishing.(1)

[see Patrick cite below]

New technological approaches to improving remote surveillance of the oceans are necessary if we are to implement effective conservation. Of particular concern is locating nondeclared and illegal fisheries that dramatically impact oceanic ecosystems. Here, we demonstrate that animal-borne, satellite-relayed data loggers both detected and localized fishing vessels over large oceanic sectors. Attraction of albatrosses to fishing vessels [resulted in] … high proportions of nondeclared fishing vessels operating in international waters, as well as in some remote national seas. Our results demonstrate the potential of using animals as Ocean Sentinels for operational conservation.(2)

[see Weimerskirch cite below]
WANDERING ALBATROSS in flight [Critter Science photo credit]

So, how are albatrosses able to acts as surveillance spies, and as informants, to fishing quota treaty-enforcing authorities?  It wasn’t planned by the albatrosses. In fact, it wasn’t originally planned by the humans, either.

The discovery came about by accident when researchers at the Centre d’études biologiques de Chizé in France were investigating bycatch in fishing lines and nets – when fishers unintentionally snare animals they weren’t trying to catch, like albatrosses.  …  In the past few decades, countries implemented cross-border policies to directly address the causes of bycatch, particularly for albatroses and petrels, which have been severely affected. With onboard human observers or electronic devices tracking activity, albatross bycatch rates have fallen dramatically on monitored vessels.  But what about illegal fishing boats? Military vessels and aircraft patrol the Southern Ocean looking for criminal fishers, but there are no observers or monitoring to ensure these boats are using methods to protect albatrosses, and without these, we know that bycatch rates are very high.(1)

[see Patrick cite below]

Eventually the idea of harnessing albatrosses with high-tech sensors was thought of, originally as a way to track the movements of the albatrosses themselves. However, when the albatrosses gave information on undocumented fishing boats, making it much easier to locate and catch poachers, the playing field of the poaching-at-sea industry was suddenly tilted in favor of law enforcement.

Boats that are legally fishing are generally registered and licensed, and so must adhere to laws regarding where and when they fish, and what and how much they can catch. Monitoring fishery activity around land masses is one thing, but beyond these limits, the open ocean is deemed international waters and doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of a single nation. Patrolling this enormous area by ship or air is rarely effective.  But what if there were 100 officers that could cover 10,000km each in a 30-day stretch? Meet the albatross ocean sentinels who patrol the seas for illegal fishers. Wandering albatrosses breed on remote islands around Antarctica. These are usually only accessible by boat, and researchers must brave the “furious 50s” of the Southern Ocean – powerful winds found between the latitudes of 50 and 60 degrees – to get there, across some of the roughest seas in the world.(1)

[see Patrick cite below]
WANDERING ALBATROSS chick on island coast [Alain Ricci / Wikimedia Commons photo credit]

It wasn’t long before it was discovered that some of the boats were fishing without disclosing their identities, i.e., illegally—they did not want to be recognized for who they really were.

But when we combined the data collected by the loggers with a global map, we could see the location of all boats with an active Automatic Identification System (AIS). This radar allows vessels to detect each other, preventing collisions. Our study found that over 20% of boats within French waters didn’t have their AIS on, rising to 35% in international waters. Since the AIS is intended to keep vessels safe, it’s likely that these vessels operating without it in international waters were doing so to avoid detection, and so could be fishing illegally.(1)

[see Patrick cite below]

So now the surveilling albatrosses can report the radar of undocumented fishing boats, with that information being relayed on to law-enforcement authorities who then know where to find the poachers.


As a result, the albatross data had unintentionally revealed the potential extent and scale of illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean. It’s difficult to imagine a human patrol boat being able to cover enough area to efficiently track illegal fisheries. But each wandering albatross could potentially cover the same area of ocean as a boat, and when its logger detects a fishing boat with its AIS turned off, it can relay that information to the authorities, who can alert nearby vessels to investigate. … This [can] help conserve fish stocks, protect albatrosses and other seabirds, and manage the marine ecosystem as a whole. As ocean sentinels, it turns out that albatrosses have a unique ability to collect the data needed for their own conservation.(1)

[see Patrick cite below]

So the Wandering Albatross, fitted with satellite-relayed data loggers, exemplify self-defense by unintentionally calling the law when they spot (and report) undocumented fish poachers at sea—who are the same poachers famous for carelessly killing albatrosses as bycatch.

But what about chickens? How can they illustrate self-defense?

Consider the proverbial fox entrusted with guarding the henhouse.  Except in one French henhouse, however, where the results were quite unexpected.

“Chickens kill fox . . . ” [ photo credit]

Chickens in a poultry farm in northwest France are suspected of killing a fox who tried to sneak into their coop.(3)

[see “The Local — France” cite below]

Yes, you read that right—it was the chickens who killed the home-invading fox.

The young predator [fox] is thought to have entered the henhouse at an agricultural school at dusk last week and become trapped inside by light-controlled automatic hatch doors that close when the sun goes down. Students at Le Gros Chene school in Brittany discovered the body of the animal when making their rounds to check on the chickens the following morning. “There, in the corner, we found this dead fox,” Pascal Daniel, head of farming at the school, [reported]. “There was a herd instinct and they attacked him with their beaks.”(3)

[see “The Local — France” cite below]

So, being “hen-pecked” can be fatal! Wow! Chickens in Brittany are tough—respect their space—they do defend themselves. It seems that even in the world of nature, after the Fall, self-defense must be practiced, one way or another. 

And, in the case of God’s wonderful Wandering Albatrosses(4), you might say that the albatrosses are now “appealing to Caesar” (as Paul did in Acts 25:10-11), defensively, without even knowing it!(7)

WANDERING ALBATROS pair [Samantha Patrick photo credit]


  1. Patrick, S. 2020. The Albatrosses who Catch Pirates on the High Seas. BBC News (July 8, 2020), posted at .
  2. Weimerskirch, H., J. Collet, A. Corbeau, et al. 2020. Ocean Sentinel Albatrosses Locate Illegal Vessels and Provide the First Estimate of the Extent of Nondeclared Fishing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (February 11, 2020), posted at .  
  3. Staff writer. 2019. Furious French Chickens Team Up to Henpeck Fox to Death. The Local – France (March 13, 2019), posted at .
  4. Johnson, J. J. S. 2020. Wandering Albatross; Wide Wings on the Winds. Creation Science Update (July 2, 2020), posted at .
  5. The North Atlantic Ocean has been lamentably depleted of its codfish, due to overfishing promoted by the evolution-friendly “science” teaching of Thomas Huxley, Charles Darwin’s ally.  See Thomas, B. 2009. Huxley Error Led to Cod Calamity. Acts & Facts. 38(8):17, posted at .
  6. The North Pacific Ocean’s populations of Alaska Pollock have been shrinking dramatically, due to fraudulent under-reporting of pollock catch statistics—not due to “global warming”.  See Johnson, J. J. S. 2018. Something Fishy about Global Warming Claims. Acts & Facts. 47(3):21, posted at .
  7. When the apostle Paul appealed to Caesar he was acting in self-defense, with the potential of a counterattack, because if Caesar became angry at Pauls’ accusers—a foreseeable scenario—Caesar could rule that the false accusers be put to death. See Acts 25:9-12.  Self-defense is also illustrated in Esther 8:11 and 9:1-22.

Fowl Are Fair on Day 5

Fowl Are Fair on Day Five, with Special Attention to Galliforms

Dr. James J. S. Johnson


Red Junglefowl (wild equivalent of domestic chicken) Frederic Pelsey photo

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl [‘ôph] that may fly [ye‘ôphēph] above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.  And God created great whales [tannînim ha-gadolîm], and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl [‘ôph kanaph] after his kind: and God saw that it was good.  And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl [‘ôph] multiply in the earth. (Genesis 1:20-22)

In the Holy Bible, King James Version, the term “fowl” is repeatedly used to denote birds in general – animals who fly with wings and feathers. Nowadays, however, we usually limit the term “fowl” to refer to “waterfowl” (like ducks) or landfowl, like chickens.  The latter category – landfowl – are, generally speaking, birds that stay close to the ground because their body plan is fairly heavy (which is not good for intense or prolonged flying), like chickens or turkeys.  The fancy term for these landfowl is GALLIFORM, meaning shaped like a chicken.

Accordingly, God is glorified by His creation of poultry (domesticated chicken-like birds) and similar landfowl (a/k/a “gamefowl”), both being taxonomically categorized as Galliforms (i.e., birds whose physical forms that resemble big or small chickens).

Galliforms, as large ground-dwelling birds, are well-known for eating seeds and insects (both of which are often found on or near the ground). As noted above, their body weight encumbers them from flying very much or very far, although they can and do fly short distances when needed.  When chased, by predators, they often run and hide (as is indicated in 1st Samuel 26:18 & 26:20).  These often-domesticated birds include chicken, quails, pheasants, tragopans, argus, grouse, guineafowl, incubator birds, craciforms (such as guan, chachalaca and curassow), ptarmigan, turkey, and peafowl.  1st-Samuel26.20-partridge-slide

The typical icon of the galliform group (according to taxonomist Carl Linnaeus, in A.D. 1758) is Gallus gallus, a label assigned to both Asia’s wild Junglefowl and the domestic Chicken.  Many of these birds, especially chickens and turkeys, are raised by humans, for their eggs or to be eaten (as meat).  CodfishLays1000000Eggs-poem

As we know from Scripture (Luke 11:12-13), poultry eggs are a truly good source of nutrition for humans, and the whites (albumen) of eggs taste better when seasoned with salt (Job 6:6).

Galliform birds mostly live mostly sedentary lives (although some seasonally migrate) in moderate climate zones of Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa, Australia, and many islands. (Don’t expect to find them in the super-dry Sahara Desert or in super-cold Antarctica.)


AMERICAN TURKEYS Schuylkill Center for Envir’l Educ’n photo

Some of these poultry birds are usually found only live in certain parts of the world (such as wild turkeys, which are biogeographically native only to North and South America), yet they can be introduced (as immigrants) to other places that have similar climates.  Because landfowl usually nest on or near the ground they are often victims to predators, including humans; accordingly it is important to avoid over-hunting them (and over-harvesting their eggs); this conservation-relevant reality (and concern) is acknowledged by Moses in Deuteronomy 22:6-7.

Amazingly, the Lord Jesus once compared His own willingness and ability, to care and protect humans, to that of a galliform – specifically, a mother hen — who uses her own body to protectively care for her own hatchling baby chicks (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34).    How good it is to belong to Him forever!

LUKE 13:34 ( image)