Do Migratory Birds Practice Preventative Medicine?


Before a long migration, certain birds shift from an insect diet to eating fruits such as berries. Researchers once thought that this added carbohydrate reserves as fuel for the journey. But a new study out of the University of Rhode Island suggests that the birds are interested in the fruits’ antioxidants, not their sugars.

Antioxidants are chemicals that are packed within richly colored fruit skins and are known to stabilize cellular processes. Based on research presented at the March 24th American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco, it appears that the birds fill up on berry antioxidants for the medicinal benefits they provide to tissues that will undergo stress during the upcoming flight.

But this implies that birds use preventative medicine by instinct, which would be difficult for evolution to explain. Evolution supposedly operates on physical traits, not non-physical instincts. David Bonter of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology told Discovery News, “There must be some compounds in the fruit that serves [sic] as attractions.”1 Perhaps if the birds are responding to compounds, they wouldn’t be responding to an instinct for preventative medicine after all.

But even if such compounds were to be found, the birds’ abilities to detect them, recognize their significance in light of their impending migration, and take appropriate actions would equally defy an evolutionary explanation. Along with their programmed—yet instinctive—flight plans, such abilities point to deliberate design, and therefore to creation.

Months of observation of the birds’ eating behavior prior to migration also confirmed that the plants yielding the berries benefit from the bird’s inadvertent seed dispersal. Bonter told Discovery News that this interdependence “would appear to be something that has evolved jointly between the berry plants and the birds.”1

However, since the observation of fine-tuned interactions between two very different organisms more forcefully implies special creation than evolution, any appearance of broad-scale evolution in this case is artificially applied to the evidence and is not a product of it.2

The burden of proof remains upon those who claim that birds evolved their abilities to switch to the right diet at just the right time, all the while serving the dual functions of preparing for migration and dispersing seeds. The view that birds evolved opposes the testimony of the One who was there at their beginning, who spoke through the apostle Paul, saying, “But God [not nature] giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.”3

References

  1. O’Hanlon, L. Birds Fuel up on Super Foods Before Migrating. Discovery News. Posted on discovery.com March 25, 2010, accessed March 30, 2010.
  2. Morris, J. 1990. Did a Watchmaker Make the Watch? Acts & Facts. 19 (3).
  3. 1 Corinthians 15:38-39.

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on April 8, 2010.