How Birds Stay Safe During Hurricanes
"Where Do Birds Go During Hurricanes?"
When hurricane winds rip roofs off buildings and toss mobile homes, what happens to the birds? Birds are very sensitive to changes in air pressure and know instinctively to take shelter. A sharp drop in barometric pressure alerts them that a big storm is on the way.
When birds detect an approaching storm, especially in the fall when they don't have a nest or babies to protect, they can high-tail it out of the storm’s path. Strong-flying birds fly ahead of the storm, carried by the winds at the forefront of the system. Other birds don't go too far, finding any sort of shelter out of the wind, hail and rain.
Luckily, birds' feet work differently than human hands. When a bird lands, special muscles make their toes automatically tighten around the branch on which they are perched. This holds them in place during high winds or when they sleep. Birds must make an effort to unclench their toes in order to take off. Therefore, during a hurricane, the birds do not necessarily need to hang on tighter – they need to relax!
Woodpeckers and other cavity nesters ride out storms in tree holes, which works unless the tree snaps or is uprooted. Songbirds fly for dear life in advance of storms or try to ride them out, clinging to sturdy, sheltered branches. Shorebirds leave the beaches and move inland.
Some birds are picked up by the storm system and carried long distances. They become trapped in the calm eye by the towering, fierce storms. The eye of the storm, in effect, becomes a bird cage until the hurricane begins to fizzle and birds can escape. It is the eye of the storm that displaces birds, not the strong winds. These displaced birds, known as “Hurricane Birds,” present rare opportunities for birders who keep a list of the birds they see. “Listers” can check off birds on their lifelist they normally wouldn’t see, such as pelagic (ocean-going) birds blown ashore.
Birds living in hurricane areas also suffer when their food supplies, such as fruits and berries, are stripped from trees and shrubs. What can we do to help them? Feed them high protein foods, such as suet, to re-build their strength.
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