We all know that long distance jets fly at very high elevations. There
are good reasons to fly at 35,000 feet. The air is thinner so you have
less drag and can go faster. You are flying above weather, so storms
and bad weather are not an issue. There is less likelihood of a
collision either with things like dust storms or with other local
objects that might be in the lower atmosphere. For living things like
birds the same advantages would be present as well as protection from
predators, but the cold temperatures and lack of oxygen were thought to
make flying at high elevations impossible. Our radar has evolved to the
point where the newest radar can distinguish between birds, bats,
insects, dust and even pollen. Imagine the surprise of radar
technicians when they detected swans flying at 27,000 feet and
bar-headed geese flying at just under 30,000 feet. It turns out that
most birds fly at very high elevations. Songbirds typically fly at
6,000 feet. Most ducks fly between 10,000 and 15, 000 feet. How can
they do that?
Most mammals cannot breathe well enough to survive at elevations of 20,000 feet or more. Birds are able to breathe because they have a complex respiratory system that provides a continuous flow of oxygen through their lungs. They do not depend on a diaphragm pushing air in and out of their lungs. That means that the birds can survive in thinner air longer, even when exerting themselves heavily as they do in flight. The layering of feathers that birds have is so efficient as an insulator that the cold temperatures of the high elevations is no issue for them.
Once again we have an example of how God has created creatures to do
incredible things in ways that benefit them and allow them to survive
in places we would not think possible. It is as if we are still trying
to answer all the questions that God asked Job in Job 39:26 "Does the
hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread his wings toward the south?"
The answer is clearly "no--it is a wisdom far beyond that of man."
Data from Discover, November 2005, page 88.
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