Feathery Miracles

by The Old Scott

Picture a hawk soaring effortlessly in great circles overhead. Its wings are spread wide, its flight feathers extended like individual fingers to catch the slightest air current. Scarcely a muscle moves, yet the hawk glides on and on. What keeps this magnificent hunter from being a mere naked, helpless, and flightless creature? Feathers! In fact, we can hardly imagine a bird without feathers-unless it's a chicken ready for the cooking pot! So essential are feathers to a bird that it could not long exist without them. So let's take a closer look at a feather-perhaps one molted from our hawk. The first thing we notice is how light it is. Just a puff of breath would blow it out of our hand. But at the same time, how sturdy it is! Its spine is composed of material much like horn: tough yet flexible. Its surface is also ridged for greater strength. If we cut into the spine, or central shaft, we would find a sturdy outer shell and plenty of internal bracing material for strength-but mostly we would find empty space: strength and lightness combined. That lightness is very important to a bird, for when it flaps its wings to fly it must lift and keep on lifting every ounce of weight. Next notice the springy vanes which come out of both sides of the spine. How perfectly aligned they are! What keeps them that way? If you inspect the tips of these vanes, you may be able to see tiny barbs or hooks. These hook together, much like the halves of a zipper, to keep each vane in line. Should some barbs become unhooked, the bird can repair the damage by preening-running its beak down the feather. Now notice that each vane is fringed on both sides. There is a special reason for that, too: When each vane is in its proper place, the entire wing feather is a very efficient air scoop. If we could see this feather at work while the bird is flying, we would observe that it is constantly flexing and turning this way or that, in response to the changing needs of flight. Here is another special design feature: The front side of the feather is narrower than the back side. When the wing moves down in a power/lifting stroke, the resistant air exerts more pressure on the broader side of the feather, and this in turn rotates the feather into the position for maximum lift. On the return stroke, just the opposite happens: the feather shifts so the narrow side is most exposed, thus lessening the resistance of the air. (A swimmer does much the same thing when he cups his hands on each power stroke and straightens them on the return.) Well: how many "special arrangements" have we noticed on just this one feather? There is great strength with very little weight; there is the marvelous arrangement of the fringed vanes to create air scoops; there is the outstanding "zipper repair kit" which is built into each feather; and there is the amazingly simple basic design, which automatically trims the feather for peak performance in flight. This list does not exhaust the subject, for we could also mention the top-notch insulating qualities of feathers, and the provision to provide new feathers at intervals (usually yearly). We haven't spoken yet about how all this happened; but it seems pretty obvious that there can't be so many evidences of a master design, without there being a Master Designer. It would be like going into an electronics store, and imagining that somehow all the precision appliances designed and manufactured themselves and came together in just the right order on blind impulse. No, we are looking at more "marks of the Master," who is their Creator, and ours. "And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God blessed them, saying Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth" (Gen. 1:20-21). And God "saw that every thing that He had made...was very good" (v. 31). Yes, amen, Lord! References: How Birds Fly, John K. Terres, Hawthorn Books, NY 1968, p. 136. The Air Around Us, John Sparks, Danbury Press (Div. of Grolier Enterprises), 1975, pp. 116-117.
2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
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