There’s no denying each of us has a unique “superpower,” but how does that compare with birds’ superpowers?
Birds vary in shape and size, and most backyard birds visiting your feeders weigh much less than you think at just a few ounces.
So how does something so delicate wield superpowers far surpassing those of humans?
You might think we’re smarter than birds and have better survival skills. But I’m in awe of birds’ survival skills in the coldest winter months, especially during harsh arctic blasts. Birds find food (not all birds rely on bird feeders), use their magical feathers to stay warm, and thwart predators in the freezing cold to go on and live another day.
That’s amazing! Picture yourself relying on only feathers for warmth. When I’m outside in February at Shepaug Dam in Southbury, CT taking photos of nesting Bald Eagles, my shutter finger freezes up in about 5 minutes, even though I’m wearing the latest in extreme cold weather gear.
After grabbing a hand warmer, about 15 minutes later, I thaw out and gain feeling in my finger, and I’m back taking photos. But birds don’t need tech toys to stay warm.
I learned that Black-capped Chickadees survive winter temperatures of more than 60 degrees below zero. And if the temps reach 100+ degrees in July, they can survive that, too.
It’s easy surviving those drastic temps with the flip of a switch turning up the thermostat during winter and having ac pumping in the summer. But birds don’t need technology to outdo us.
Let’s talk about housing and building expertise. Yes, we work with incredible architects to design and build prefab homes, houses with poured foundations, and single-level homes with sound “human” structural integrity using an array of advanced building materials. Yet all man-made designs succumb to the elements of nature. Rainstorms, high winds, hurricanes, or tornadoes.
Birds build nests that maintain structural integrity without nails, glue, or tools. They make adobe nests, wooden nests, and woven nests by tying knots made of plant fibers, mud, and sticks. They don’t need architects to create their homes. Instead, they hatch with plans ready-made in their heads. Think about building a fabulous home with no architect fees!
So, what’s their secret? Ask Mother Nature.
Human Tech Lets Us Experience Exhilaration of Flight
All seriousness aside, birds wield superpowers humanity can only dream of having, and even our tech toys don’t come close.
The most apparent superpower is the gift of flight. You know, something we need a plane or helicopter to do.
When was the last time you flew in the air, riding the thermals using nothing but your muscles, hollow bones, and feathers? And if you’re a pilot, that doesn’t count. Okay, bungee jumping lets you feel the wind around you as you flap your arms hysterically, bouncing up and down. But you’re tethered to a long rubber band. That doesn’t count.
Nor does BASE jumping off cliffs and peaks in a wingsuit. But it sure does come close.
Wingsuits Help Humans “Fly”
Unlike a bird’s wings, a wingsuit is lightweight, scientifically-engineered, densely woven nylon. The wingsuiter’s entire body is covered, forming two wings between the arms and torso and another between the legs. As scary as it sounds, the suit creates enough lift to allow a person to glide downward for several minutes while controlling trajectory through slight movements of the shoulders, hips, and knees.
Wingsuiters frequently reach 100 miles per hour or more speeds, giving them an exhilarating sense that they’re actually flying. So imagine if a Peregrine Falcon’s wings are made of specifically engineered nylon fibers? Crazy thought, right.
And what about the fluidity and majesticness of a bird’s flight.
Gravity takes you straight down even if you jump off a cliff in a wingsuit. Birds are aerodynamic and maintain flight.
And a bird’s majestic flight is unmatched. (Unless it’s a juvenile songbird still learning how to fly). Sorry Airbus A380 and Boeing 747. A California Condor or Turkey Vulture still manages to navigate and absorb turbulence with a certain gracefulness.
So if we compare humans with birds, birds perform epic feats every day that humans can only dream about doing.
Birds know when to migrate, where, and how to get there. But unfortunately, many of us can’t reach a destination even when using a GPS that provides turn-by-turn directions.
The only trait we share with birds is that they don’t need to ask for directions when they migrate to reach their destination. Humans don’t ask for directions, period.
A shorebird called a Bar-tailed Godwit regularly flies more than 7000 miles without stopping in its annual fall migration from Alaska to New Zealand. So I can get lost driving one town over with a GPS.
Let’s talk about a bird’s sense of direction, or what I call their Avian Google maps.
Before GPS, the earliest navigation methods involved observing landmarks or watching the direction of the sun and stars. Migrating birds are born with Google maps in their brains but rely on the stars, moon, and sun to navigate and adjust for wind drift.
So besides flying like airplanes, birds have a few other superpowers that humans, instead, rely on scientific devices to perform.
Birds detect the Earth’s magnetic field, direction, and strength and have special brain cells that allow them to compare this data to their mental map.
We need barometers to measure atmospheric pressure, but birds have built-in barometers. Using a middle-ear receptor, birds can sense tiny changes in atmospheric pressure. As we see the tragic impact of Climate Change, it’s easy to see how this “barometric” ability is lifesaving for birds to help them detect atmospheric changes that precede a storm or hurricane.
Birds fly off before the rest of us know a storm is coming. We have to wait for the Weather Channel app to alert us.
Birds’ Greatest Superpower of All
But of all superpowers, a bird’s greatest superpower is simply being a bird.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a chickadee, Great-horned Owl, Red-winged Blackbird, Peregrine Falcon, or tiny hummingbird. To be born a bird is one of the greatest gifts. If it weren’t so special, why has humanity been trying to copy them since the beginning of time?
We’ve created branches of the military that produce highly trained flight specialists to emulate birds, like NASA, the Air Force, and the Navy wielding birds’ superpowers to be like them: Naval aviators, Air Force Pilots, and astronauts. Yet, they aren’t a bird.
We can only dream of one day evolving into a bird, but to do so, humans need to develop wings. And if we trade our arms and fingers for flight, how will we operate all our devices?
For now and into the distant future, the birds’ superpowers are their own and remain out of humanity’s reach. The final score for superpowers is Birds 1, Humans 0.