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Flying Colors: Hurricanes and Birds

by ARLnow.com Sponsor September 14, 2018 at 11:45 am 0

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Flying Colors is a sponsored column on the hobby of backyard bird feeding written by Michael Zuiker, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store at the Lee Harrison Shopping Center. Visit the store at 2437 N. Harrison Street or call 703-241-3988.

We all know how intense the weather has been this summer. All the hot days. All the rain and flooding. And the dominating weather story for the past 7 days of Hurricane Florence has everyone monitoring their news feeds. I have a sister in South Carolina and nephews in North Carolina.

Nature will always remember who is in charge when weather events like this occur.

With warnings and advice and preparations, we can insulate our lives, to the best of our abilities to protect ourselves. What happens to wildlife though? Especially birds when these events occur.

Our chief naturalist for Wild Birds Unlimited pulled together some fascinating facts about what birds do to survive.

Bird Behavior and Responses to Hurricane Events

  • Birds and hurricanes have coexisted for ages, and birds have developed many strategies to survive and rebound from the effects of these natural disasters.
  • Birds are sensitive to barometric pressure, so they can sense when a major storm is on the way.
  • In response to an approaching hurricane, some birds will migrate earlier than they normally would. Research has found that sparrows speed up their fall departure in response to falling barometric pressures.
  • Some migrating birds move toward the eye of the hurricane, staying in this calmer area until the hurricane dissipates. They often end up hundreds of miles away from their normal migration route.
  • Birds that don’t migrate often shelter in place, trying to find cover wherever they can. Many non-migratory birds seek shelter inside thick bushes or on the leeward side of trees.
  • Cavity roosting birds, such as woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches may seek shelter in their nest or roosting cavities, and some will seek out man-made nest boxes.
  • Research (although limited) seems to show that most land birds weather hurricanes well if they can find appropriate cover.
  • The most direct impact of hurricanes that occur during the storm are most evident in seabirds. The indirect effects, which occur in the storm’s aftermath due to damage to the habitat, are most evident in land birds.
  • Hurricanes dramatically affect birds’ natural habitat and food sources, which can put pressure on already stressed species.
  • A major threat to bird survival is the vegetation damage caused by hurricanes and some birds may perish since the local habitats no longer provide the food they need.
  • Due to the lack of food resources, some birds may disperse in search of more suitable habitat and others will seek out artificial sources of food.
  • Migrating hummingbirds are known to swarm nectar feeders in hurricane ravaged areas where natural nectar plants have been destroyed.
  • Population declines of land birds are often related to their diet and the loss of food resources. Fruit, seed and nectar feeding birds struggle the most with the loss of habit, while insect eating birds and birds of prey are less effected by the storms impact.
  • Providing supplemental bird foods, fresh water and shelter are very important actions to take to help the bird population in your area after a hurricane.

This hurricane will most likely stop some of the bird migration heading south. At least in the short term.

Take some time to be outdoors and watch and listen for the songs and sounds of the warblers, vireos, thrushes and other migrating birds. There is a unique occurrence that happens at times when extreme weather events prevent birds from moving.

These “fallouts” happen with thousands of birds getting out of unfavorable wind and rain conditions and settling in habitat to wait. If you time it right, you can experience a spectacular viewing of many different species of rarely seen migratory birds.

Hurricane Florence is setting up this scenario. Try to get out this weekend to a park or field with your binoculars and cameras.

Be safe.

Save The Date: Saturday, September 29, we will be celebrating our 27th anniversary with a great party and sale. Visit our website for details on all the party happenings.

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