How do birds fare during a hurricane? Migrating birds usually wait for favorable weather conditions before starting a migratory flight, but sometimes flocks of migrating birds are already over open water when a hurricane develops, and can get pushed way out of their normal migration path by the strong winds.
Large flocks of birds have even been observed on radar, trapped in the calm center of the storm, as shown in the Weather Channel radar image at left, captured during Hurricane Matthew in 2016. The red area actually represents thousands of birds trapped in the eye!
Some birds may find their way back to their migratory route after the storm, but others may be thousands of miles away from where they should be, and may perish if they are unable to find food. Even resident birds can be affected, as strong winds may strip berries and fruits from trees and shrubs, depleting their food supply as well.
You can help migrating and resident birds survive a hurricane by providing food and fresh water for them after the storm. However, please make sure to take your feeders down before the storm hits, as they may become dangerous projectiles in high winds.
Seabirds more common to South Florida waters like Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Noddys, Black Terns, and Sooty Terns may also be pushed northward by a big storm, so if you are a coastal birder and can safely observe from the shore after the hurricane passes, make sure you have your scope and report your sightings at eBird.org. Your observations will help to document the impact of strong storms on bird species and create a more complete picture of the health of bird populations in our changing climate.
As the current hurricane season progresses, be sure to keep yourself and your family safe, but don't forget about our avian friends!