Be Your Own Birder

Why I’m Not Worried About Birds Tonight

Tonight is the night, and millions of eyes are on south Florida as Hurricane Irma is poised to make landfall along the western coast of the state in the next few hours. Exactly where or when remains difficult to predict, not only due to the general unpredictability of hurricanes and variables in wind speeds, air pressure and wind currents, but also due to the unique geography of the western coast of Florida, with bays, estuaries, islands and more. It is that unique geography that is also home to millions of amazing birds and hundreds of bird species, with prime habitats for many birds nestled along that same coastline that is facing devastating winds, driving rains and heavy storm surge within the next few hours.

Photo by Luke Addison

Photo by Luke Addison

Over the past few days, I’ve seen many people boarding up their windows, securing outdoor furniture, clearing brush and branches, closing storm shutters, stocking up on supplies and doing other necessary tasks to prepare for the coming storm. I’ve also seen neighbors helping neighbors, seen emergency shelters well-stocked to assist and followed along with emergency announcements and updates. I, and my family, have protected our home, stocked up ourselves and baked cookies that we delivered to our own shelter for those who have to be away from their homes and families at this perilous and nerve-wracking time.

I’ve also seen many people – many of whom don’t live here and haven’t themselves personally witnessed both the fury of the duration and the recovery from one of these storms – ask “but what about the birds?”

I’m not worried about the birds. Not at all.

Birds have survived more storms, and stronger ones, than humans ever have or will. Birds are well-equipped to handle these storms, and will recover more quickly and more successfully than humans ever could. A wild bird does not rely on electricity, filtered water, air conditioning, refrigerated food or other modern amenities for its survival. A bird doesn’t need to follow one road to evacuate away from a storm, and they don’t need to stop at gas stations along the way. If they do leave, they don’t need to take important papers, supplies, clothes, pets and other items with them. While we may love to see them at our feeders, they don’t even rely on those supplemental resources for the majority of their food – a typical wild bird gets 75-80 percent of its food from sources other than backyard feeders, so if our feeders are unavailable, they will find their meals elsewhere.

Can a hurricane devastate birds in other ways? Yes. Storm surge and flooding can drown nests and breeding grounds, as well as change habitats and eliminate food sources. But birds are far more adaptable than we think they are, and they can and will recover. We can help by ensuring our feeders are out and available as soon as it is safe to do so after a storm, and by volunteering or donating to local refuges or birding organizations to help with their storm recovery efforts – but even those efforts will largely be for the benefit of human visitors as boardwalks are repaired, trails are cleared and amenities are restored. The birds will be back and enjoying the refuges, beaches, wetlands and other habitats long before humans walk those trails again.

I am not, nor will you ever hear me, make light of a hurricane or diminish the risks they pose. But please, in these perilous hours, take care of yourself and your human friends and family members, ensuring your own safety and the safety of those you care about. The birds will be there when the winds die down, the waves recede and the skies clear, and there will be many other days for birding.

Be safe, Florida.

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