Marvel Of God’s Creation #2: The Incubator Bird

The Megapode or “incubator bird” of Australia is unique among birds. This three to four pound bird resembles a chicken or a small turkey. Some native Australians call it the brush turkey.

The incubator birds are unlike all other birds. So, if they evolved, from what did they evolve? Or what are they evolving into? An article in Scientific American22 offers precious little by way of an evolutionary explanation for the origins of this strange bird.

All birds use body heat to incubate their eggs except the incubator bird.

Instead, they pile up great heaps of debris which serve as incubators; the warmth of the fermenting compost does the work. In one species, the scrub fowl, a mound 20 feet high and 50 feet wide has been reported.23

Instead of using its own body heat to incubate its eggs (as does the chicken who sits on her eggs), the incubator bird uses fermentation heat and “some use solar heat and others the heat produced by volcanic action.”24

A bird that uses volcanic heat or the warmth of fermenting plant life to hatch its eggs: Incredible! If there are any creatures that could not possibly evolve, the Australian incubator bird joins the bombardier beetle as such a creature.

The female is responsible for two activities. First, she must test the nest to be sure it is adequate for incubating her eggs. What explanation can evolution offer for the ability of the hen to evaluate the suitability of a nest that may be dug three feet into the ground and extend 15 feet or more above ground and up to 50 feet across? And what would motivate a little three and one-half pound male bird to get busy constructing monstrous nest number two, should the hen reject his first effort?

After accepting the nest, the second responsibility of the female is performed. She lays 20 to 35 eggs at the rate of one egg every three days for up to seven months. “As many as 16 eggs can exist in a normal mound at any one time.”25 Each egg weighs about a half a pound and is as large as an ostrich egg. That is a tremendous amount of work for a three to four pound hen. No wonder that upon completion of her laying task, she leaves the nest, never to return. She takes no part in the incubation and raising of her chicks. This is not your normal evolutionary way!

At this point, the male begins to perform his God-given job of managing the incubation of the deeply buried eggs. For this species of incubator bird chicks to survive, they demand a precise temperature of 91°F. Yes, exactly 91ºF. If the male bird wants the chicks to survive, he will not let the temperature vary more than one or two degrees on either side of 91ºF! How does the daddy bird maintain a consistent temperature of 91ºF in a mound of decaying plants and dirt?

Scientists differ on the mechanism they think the bird uses to measure the temperature. Some think the bird’s thermometer is in its beak. Others believe the tongue can distinguish 91ºF and a few tenths of a percent above and below 91ºF.

Here is the point: How could a bird evolve the ability to precisely measure temperatures with its beak or tongue? Evolution has no credible answer. How would the incubator bird know it needed to keep its eggs at 91ºF? The chicks would get too hot or too cold and die before he figured it out. And dead creatures do not evolve into higher forms.

You may be asking, “Well, how does this bird keep those eggs at 91ºF?” The male digs down into the nest and checks the temperature. On hot days, he may pile extra sand on top of the nest to shield it from the sun. He may even rearrange the entire pile of rotting leaves and grasses several times a day.

On cooler days, the male megapodes (which means big feet) will push material off the top of the nest to permit more sunlight to penetrate the decaying organic material. Or, to keep the humidity at 99.5% around the eggs, he may dig conical holes toward the eggs to get more moisture deeper into the nest. Keeping temperature and humidity just right is a big job. Concerning the precision needed for incubation temperature maintenance, Seymour writes:

This process is very precise: one centimeter of fresh material added to the mound can increase core temperature about 1½ºC.26

Not only must the eggs be kept at 91ºF and 99.5% humidity, but the chick must get enough air to breathe. The father provides the fresh air for the chicks as he daily digs down to the eggs. But the chick must get the air inside the shell. The means to get air inside the shell was provided by the hen as she formed the shell. It has thousands of tiny holes (called pores) in it. These holes in the thick shell (in at least one species) are shaped like conical ice cream cones with the narrowest part of the cone toward the chick. As the chick grows, it cannot get enough air through the bottom of the cone so it begins to remove the inside layer of the shell. As it thins out the shell, the holes get bigger (moving up the cone) and the chick can get more air. Amazing!

The way the chicks hatch is also unique among birds. Unlike other birds, they are ready to fly with full feathers as soon as they break out of the egg. Only once they hatch, it takes up to three days for them to dig their way up out of the mound. How do they know they must dig their way out or else they die? How do they know which way to dig? They have not been instructed by either parent. Even so, they lie on their backs and dig up until they break out. Clearly, the God of the Bible is involved with all aspects of His creation! It is illogical to think of these incredible birds as a product of mindless, random, accidental, purposeless chance happenings of some mysterious evolutionary process over massive amounts of time.

Once the chicks dig out of the nest, they are on their own. They are not fed or cared for by either parent. When they are mature, the male will build a huge nest as an incubator for his mate’s eggs. He will build this huge, precise mound without any instruction from his parents. This is not learned behavior! How does the brush turkey know the importance of 91ºF?

Credentialed men and women have the audacity to say that this bird is the product of mindless, purposeless, random chance processes over long periods of time. But truly, how could the incubator bird even exist? Only if the God of the Bible lives and is involved with life-giving to His creatures.

22 Roger S. Seymour, “The Brush Turkey,” Scientific American, Vol. 265, No. 6, December 1991, pp. 108-114.

23 Roger Tory Petersen, Life Nature Library: The Birds (New York: Time-Life Books, 1973), p. 140.

24 The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 7 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1990 edition), p. 1011.

25 Seymour, p. 109.

26 Seymour, p. 110.