Harun Yahya

Birds' defensive techniques


What precautions do birds take to protect themselves?

Which bird species use camouflage to protect themselves?

How do birds use their mimicking techniques to protect themselves from enemies?

Allah has created every life form with different abilities to protect themselves from enemies. Camouflage is one of these defensive techniques. Birds, like some other life forms, make use of this defensive technique inspired in them by Allah.

The Camouflage Technique That Makes Protection Easier:

The Sun bittern that lives in the rain forests of South America uses visual signals to protect itself. When approached, the bird suddenly raises its tail and spreads its wings as wide as it can. This exposes large spots on the wings, resembling eyes. This sudden movement frightens predators and causes them to run away.

The pearl-spotted owlet, which has eye-shaped spots on the back of its head, is another species that mimics large eyes. This imitation face given to the owl deters predators seeking to sneak up from behind.

The ptarmigan that lives in the Arctic tundra is almost invisible in winter thanks to its white plumage. Only its black eyes, resembling pieces of rock, and its black beak can be seen against the snow. When the snow starts to melt, these birds need to change color right away. Changing color by molting generally takes  a long time, and the birds collect together on patches of melting snow for greater safety. For that reason, the females shed their plumage first. As soon as the females have molted they fly toward the scrub bushes and start building their nests. This time is lost for the males, who have become an easy target with their white plumage. Molting takes 3 to4 weeks. That length of time could prove fatal for the males. However, the males have discovered a way of turning from white to brown in just a few minutes. They turn their feathers  from white to brown by diving into a puddle of mud and thus match their new environment. There is no doubt that this changing of color to match the environment takes place thanks to highly complex mechanisms created in the birds’ bodies, and this gives rise to a great protective mechanism as these feathers, which are white on snowy days and earth colored in other seasons, provide a great advantage in terms of camouflage.

The bird known as the patoo supports its mimicry with actions. It lands on a log and is indistinguishable from that log, which is the same color as its feathers. But when approached, it begins moving in such a way as to perfect that mimicry even further. It gradually lowers its tail and inserts it into a hole in the log. In this way it becomes unclear where the log stops and the bird begins. It then, equally slowly, raises its head until its beak is perpendicular, and it closes its eyes. The bird remain frozen and immobile even at just 90 centimeters away. One distinguishing feature of the bird is that it can see with its eyes closed. There are very small vertical slits in both eyelids. These protect the bird’s sensitive eyes against the sunlight and thus enable it to see the environment around it.

Specially Secure Nests

Nutcracker birds open nest holes in the soft wood of dead trees. They have developed an effective protection against nest thieves. After opening a hole, a nutcracker collects mud from a nearby puddle and plasters the entrance to the nest with it. It leaves just enough room for a nutcracker to wriggle through. In this way, larger birds such as starlings are unable to enter the nest through that hole.

Plovers build their nests on the ground and are therefore exposed to any number of threats. Whenever a cat, dog or fox approaches, the plover leaves one of its wings immobile and drags it along the ground, giving the impression it is trying to flee with only one wing. Once it has completely distracted the predator’s attention and drawn it away from the nest it will then fly away itself. Not only the plover but quite a few species of bird adapt a similar technique in dealing with predators.

As its name suggests, the burrowing owl, lives in burrows it digs in the ground itself or those abandoned by other animals. The burrowing owl faces many predators, such as jackals, cats and stoats. Whenever a burrowing owl feels itself in danger it adopts a most interesting strategy. For example, if a fox starts digging up a burrow belong to a burrowing owl, the owl starts hissing like a snake and frightens the predator off.

Allah has created the hoopoe with an unpleasant-smelling scent gland. They rub the foul smelling fluid from these glands on their feathers and thus keep predators at bay. This fluid also possesses antibacterial properties and protects the hoopoe against many diseases.

The locust bird, or wattled starling, lives in Africa in spherical nests. They generally build their nests among thorny branches in order to deter predators. It is not, of course, the bird itself that comes up with the idea of building its nest among thorns. As He does with all other life forms too, Allah inspires the locust bird to build its nest in such a way as to protect itself.

Male ducks always have a much brighter plumage than that of the females. This is an important source of protection for females incubating their eggs in the nest because thanks to their muted coloring they are in greater safety in their nests as predators cannot see them as easily. The muted colors of the females that match those of their surroundings and their forms of camouflage make it hard to see them even from quite close up. Male ducks use their brightly colored feathers to protect the nest-building females by attracting the attention of predators. When a predator approaches the nest, the male immediately takes off, making a lot of noise and doing all it can to turn the predator away from the nest.

When a predator approaches, goldfinches and blackbirds send a warning by emitting powerful calls. This loud noise and mass movement neutralizes birds of prey and causes them to move away from the flock.

Small birds generally live together in flocks; this communal life has a very powerful effect. For example, when starlings sense the presence of an approaching hawk they immediately press together and assume the form of a black cloud. There is nothing the predator bird can do in the face of this large mass.

Secretary birds only live in Africa. They furnish the nests they build in trees and high places with leaves, grasses and feathers and renew these materials every year. Secretary birds mainly feed on snakes, which they hunt using a most interesting technique. When a secretary bird encounters a snake, it attacks the snake and tries to kill it with its claws, without using its beak. If the snake is poisonous, the secretary bird will use its wings to keep it at a distance and try to get the snake to swallow a few feathers in order to empty its poison sac. If it succeeds, the venom is expended harmlessly and it cannot harm the bird. The secretary bird then attacks the snake, which has used up most of its venom and therefore no longer represents a danger, again using its claws. The surface of the secretary birds claws has very few blood vessels, so even if the snake does bite it, the bird will not be harmed. It is Allah who inspires all the behavior of secretary birds, which have a most interesting hunting technique and are even able to cope with poisonous snakes.

These defensive and hunting techniques possessed by birds are just one example showing that there is no “incompatibility or inconsistency” in the universe created by Allah, as well as His infinite might and omniscience. Allah reveals this flawless harmony in the universe as follows in Surat al-Mulk

“...You will not find any flaw in the creation of the All-Merciful.

         Look again – do you see any gaps?

Then look again and again. Your sight will return to you dazzled and exhausted!” (Surat al-Mulk, 3–4)

One of the techniques that living things have in order to survive is camouflage, the art of self-concealment. Living things need to conceal themselves for two reasons. The first is when they are prey, and the second when they are predators. The most important difference between camouflage and other techniques is that it involves an enormous intelligence, skill and harmony.

Living things that camouflage themselves have been placed under special protection with their body structures, shapes, colors and patterns that closely match their surroundings. Some of these have bodies that so perfectly match their environments that it is almost impossible to distinguish them from the plants around them.


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