Fat birds fly furthest, proving hefty guys are physically fit

Editor’s note: The jolly ol’ elf is taking the week off. But he sent this Cole Classic first published Nov. 4, 2001, by a chubby carrier pigeon.

I am not trying to disrupt any healthy habits in which otherwise normal Americans may be participating. I only offer this as a point worth chewing on, that’s all:

Fat birds fly long-distance migration marathons more efficiently.

Honest. Those sleek, streamlined birds who only pecked at Bird Seed Lite and Nonfat Thistles, and who only splashed in birdbaths filled with Evian bottled water all summer simply do not have what it takes when the pressure’s on.

As Aesop would have fabled, “Eat plenty of cream pies before you leap.”

I am not advocating that Boston Marathon runners train in the Pizza Hut buffet line. What I am saying is the so-called experts, like Richard Simmons or my doctor — who arches his eyebrows every time I test his flimsy scales, ought to think twice before suggesting that at my weight, I couldn’t run it.

I base my extensive research into this matter on an Associated Press story. (Actually running a Boston Marathon to prove my point would have taken too much time, considering the drive to Boston. Glancing at a newspaper over a cheeseburger a couple blocks away only took a few moments.)

Anders Kvist of Sweden’s Lund University told the Associated Press researchers he trained athletic and couch-potato birds to fly in a wind tunnel. It messed up all their carefully held presumptions about aerodynamics. The fat birds — the ones tradition said would require more exertion because they were too out of shape — used their muscles more efficiently.

This is why the red-knot-wading birds, for example, pig out to twice their normal body weight before making their nonstop 3,100-mile migration between the British Isles and the Russian Arctic twice a year.

This is why we, uh, sturdy guys may look like we can’t waddle between the recliner and the refrigerator without three rest stops, but if the need ever arises to migrate to the Russian Arctic, you skinny minnies will still be struggling over the Swiss Alps while we’re already settling onto our iceberg lounges.

Brian Harrington, senior scientist at Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences near Boston, told The Associated Press, “It’s always just amazed me to think if we took an airplane and doubled its weight and tried to fly it we couldn’t get it to fly, and that’s exactly what these birds are doing.”

In wind tunnel tests, Kvist injected the red knots with a bit of water with a radioactive element that let his teams measure how much energy the bird burned while flying.

If he thought those results were surprising, I suggest injecting the fat birds with milkshakes, and they probably would have snoozed while merrily flapping at a pace that would destroy the wind tunnels.

British zoologist Jeremy Rayner of the University of Leeds, who probably is a skinny guy who runs five or 10 miles a day, said, “How does a bird cheat what seems like a fundamental of physics? One day we’ll get the answer, but at the moment, it’s not obvious.”

We of the greater girth know. It’s why fat people are so jolly. We know we could have the Russian Arctic all to ourselves whenever we want.

For now, we’ll settle for the corner store. There are some great sales on Halloween candy. Just to keep up our strength.

Send a fat messenger bird with workout tips to Cole at burtseyeview@ tribtoday.com, at the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or @BurtonWCole on Twitter.


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