MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: This may seem silly , but, How do birds survive storms.

Date: Fri Oct 23 14:20:20 1998
Posted By: Dave Williams, Science Department Chair, Valencia Community College
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 906855550.Zo
This is certainly an unusual but interesting question. I have not yet been able to uncover any evidence in the literature for the effect of hurricanes on birds but I do have a few educated guesses and thoughts on the matter.

Basically, birds are among the most mobile of vertebrates (animals with backbones). If any members of a fauna would be able to escape the effects of a big storm it would be the birds. The question is: can they sense the oncoming and significance of a storm early enough to move out of its path?

I have found no evidence that they do, in fact, flee storms but it certainly is a possibility. Birds caught in a storm are at the mercy of that storm. Certainly some are destroyed. Some others may survive the storm in various ways. They may shelter in the lee of a natural or artificial structure. They may hide in cavities, such as in hollow logs or trees. This would be simple for cavity-dwellers, and sheltered-nest types like swallows and swifts. Larger kinds of bird may have more difficulty with this.

I consulted with my colleague Steve Myers and he noted that there were some observations to the effect that, within a species of birds, it is the average size individuals who are most likely to survive a big storm. The large and smaller individuals seem to be at more of a risk. The force that tends to keep members of a given species clustered closely around some average is called stabilizing selection. Whether the storm effect contributes to (too large and too small individuals are killed and are not left to contribute to the genetic future of their species) or is a product of (the average size birds have been selected for their general sturdiness as well as their size and so have more of what it takes to survive the storm) stabilizing selection remains to be shown.

In any case, we both agreed that we had never noticed large numbers of dead birds after a big storm or hurricane. However, we have never made a systematic search for them either.

Hope this is of some help.

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