Friday, April 18, 2014

Birds are Expert Builders

They know how to choose only the best available materials for their nests.

Scientists say birds have the ability to learn what the best materials are for building their nests. Previously, it was believed birds chose nest material based on an “innate nest template” in their genes. But an experiment has shown choosing material for their nests is a more cognitively complex activity than that.

Lead researcher, Dr. Ida Bailey of the U. of St. Andrews in the UK, said that zebra finches like stiffer string. "It's more efficient for them to build with - they can build a nest with fewer materials."

Dr. Bailey and her colleagues tested the birds to see if they could learn to differentiate between materials. So they gave one group of birds floppy string with which to build their nests and another group stiffer, “structurally sound” string. Later both groups were given a choice between the two types of string. The scientists found the first group, which at first had only floppy string available, immediately chose the more rigid string when given the choice.

"There's a massive diversity of nests in the natural world," said Dr Bailey. "Some really amazing things - birds stitching leaves together, weaver birds building hanging baskets. And because birds are not considered to be as clever as people, who can learn to use different materials quite easily, the assumption had been that there was a genetic template in the birds' brains. This shows that actually learning is also very important for their decisions."

Mike Toms of the British Trust for Ornithology marveled at the results of the study. "This new knowledge certainly increases my respect for the construction skills of birds like the long-tailed tit, which use many thousands of pieces of material to make their domed nest of moss, lichen, spider-webs and feathers," he said.

Actually, the results of this study just reinforce many other studies which have highlighted the intelligence of birds. Here are just some of the past posts on this blog which deal with what researchers have learned about the intelligence and skills of our avian neighbors: Birds Learn to Sing Like Humans.  Scientists Investigate Why Crows are So Smart.  Built-in Compasses of Migrating Birds Have Been Located.  Hummingbirds Show Off Their Flying Skills.

Both Dr. Bailey and Mr. Toms indicated how impressed and surprised they are with the intelligence and skills of birds. They evidently view nature according to an evolutionist scenario in which organisms are thought to be progressing from simple to more complex, and birds are seen as being considerably less  advanced than humans. For Bible believers who view each type of creature as being initially designed by God already with specific skills in place, we may be impressed by discoveries such as these, but we are not surprised.

When the Old Testament figure, Job, began to displease God and display a weakening of his faith, the Lord began to bombard him with one example after another of the majesty of God’s creation. Prof. Rudolph E. Honsey, in his commentary on the book of Job from the People’s Bible series, quotes Rev. Walter Lang as saying the Lord asked Job forty-two scientific questions in chapter 38 alone of the book of Job. Honsey writes, “Those questions were intended to make Job aware of how little he really knew about the universe and eventually confess, ‘Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes’ ” (Job 42:6).

God speaks to skeptical scientists and non-scientists today as He did to Job long ago, but for His words to benefit them, they must listen. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). If a bird’s nest-building skills impress these researchers, they should be much more impressed about God’s plan of salvation — that their sins have been forgiven because of what happened on a cross thousands of years ago, an event the Christian church observes today on Good Friday. After living a sinless life Himself, Jesus suffered the punishment we deserve for our sins. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Reference: Victoria Gill, “Birds choose best building materials,” BBC News.

(Photograph of a zebra finch from Wikipedia, by Jim Bendon.)

Note: Because of Easter, there will be no post on Monday.

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What is South America’s largest flightless bird?

The rhea. It is a cousin of the ostrich.

Source: Ken Jennings, “Kennections,” Parade (4/6/14)


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