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What Happens to Birds During a Hurricane?


As the effects of Hurricane Sandy linger in the Northeast, it’s time for millions to begin cleaning up and assessing the damage from the awful storm. Hurricanes are frightening and dangerous, especially when hitting a place as dense as the Northeast.

Even being indoors with high winds shaking my building in New York City was utterly frightening, so it’s hard to imagine what life is like for birds outside in gale-force winds. But if you’re wondering what happens to birds during a hurricane, it actually depends on the bird.

Similar to how people are warned to evacuate in advance of a hurricane, birds have an internal warning system they follow. They can detect changes in barometric pressure, which warns them of an impending storm. Some birds will simply leave before its arrival. In a hurricane like Sandy that comes in the fall, birds are less attached to an area because they don’t have any chicks. So they can simply fly ahead of the storm to avoid the inclement weather.

Of course, not all birds can simply pick up and go. There are a lot of birds that don’t leave a certain area. These birds seek shelter from heavy winds in trees or on branches. Here’s more from birding.com about this process:

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!

Other birds even fly directly through a hurricane. Two months ago, I wrote about an amazing Whimbrel that flew 27 hours nonstop into the eye of Hurricane Irene and was flung out the other end.

Despite these amazing stories of bird survival, bird fatalities definitely rise during these natural events. Birds are either blown far off course, injured by flying debris or left without food.

Hopefully the number of birds negatively affected by Hurricane Sandy is minimal.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

7 Comments

  1. Very interesting! It’s really neat how birds have the special muscles that make their toes automatically tighten around a branch!

  2. […] Skip to content Backyard Chirper BlogAboutContributors « What Happens to Birds During a Hurricane? […]

  3. Thanks great story

  4. […] cause a tiny flying robot to crash into a wall. Birds, on the other hand, are swift, strategic and capable of flying through hurricanes. It’s not surprising that researchers are trying to glean all the information they can from […]

  5. Sandy was not a Hurricane, it was a Super Storm, that’s why it was called SUPER STORM SANDY !!!!!

  6. Bird, cat, dog or human hurricanes are simply no fun to get stuck in and around.
    I’m currently in Elgin, South Carolina the day before Hurricane Michael is due to blow through and the normally noisy birds here are nowhere to be seen nor heard with the exception of one rather large hawk flying low over the lake looking for a silly fish to nab for breakfast.

  7. Still a hurricane. Super storm Sandy is not an official weather classification, but thanks for playing along. Tell em what they won Johnny Jacobs!

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