Be Your Own Birder

Hurricane Preparations for Backyard Birds

Hurricanes are no joking matter in Florida, and from June 1 through November 30 each year I keep a close watch on the Atlantic Basin for signs of storms, tropical system development, and storm tracks. When a system does form, coalesces, and shows predictions that it may be threatening my area, it is time to finalize hurricane preparations and be ready for potential impact. But what does that mean for birds?

Storm Flag on the Beach – Photo by Barney Livingston

First Things First – Protect Yourself

First of all, I would never put preparations to protect backyard birds above readiness for my home and family. If you are ever in the path of such a dangerous storm, protect yourself, your loved ones, and your homes before you make any adjustments for birds. Wild birds have survived hurricanes, tropical storms, surge tides, flooding, high winds, and torrential rain for millennia, and while a severe storm can have immediate devastating effects, the birds are well able to get away from the worst weather and adjust their lives and behavior after the storm to adapt to changed conditions. Humans are much more vulnerable – consider your own safety first above all else. Whether that means planning an evacuation, securing your home, or staying in a designated shelter, keep yourself safe.

How Birds Stay Safe in Hurricanes

Birds have many defense mechanisms to stay safe in hurricanes and other storm conditions. First, we must remember that birds don’t need the protections we do – they don’t rely on houses and buildings, don’t use cars to evacuate, don’t need generators, electricity, or refrigeration, and don’t rely on grocery stores, gas stations, and pharmacies for supplies. In that way, birds are much more adaptable and able to fend for themselves than we are during natural disasters. Furthermore…

  • Birds can sense barometric pressure, wind currents, and humidity changes long before a storm hits, and can evacuate before weather conditions become too unstable or dangerous.
  • When they sense bad weather approaching, birds will feed frantically to tide them over during the storm, when they may not be able to feed easily or safely.
  • Birds are much smaller than humans or human-made structures, and if they stay put, they can easily huddle against a tree trunk, inside a small niche, or in another safe space out of winds and rain.
  • A bird’s feet are tightly gripped closed when relaxed, allowing birds to hang on tightly to branches or other perches without exerting effort. This allows them to maintain a strong grip even in harsh conditions.

This is not to say that hurricanes, flooding, storm surge, and other stormy conditions aren’t dangerous to birds. Breeding colonies can be devastated, food sources may be destroyed, and habitats could be fundamentally altered by severe weather. But the birds can and do survive natural disasters, with no help needed from even the most well-meaning birders.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher Ruffled by Storm Winds – Photo by Rita Flores Wiskowski

Prepare Your Backyard Birds for Hurricanes

We can, however, still offer assistance to the backyard birds we love. Provided you have made all necessary safety preparations for yourself, your family, and your other loved ones, there are steps you can take to help backyard birds survive hurricanes.

  • Keep feeders filled in the days leading up to the storm so birds can easily find nutritious foods as they instinctively prepare.
  • Consider adding extra high-fat treats to the feeders, such as shredded suet, peanut butter, or shelled nuts.
  • Just before the storm arrives or you evacuate, store feeders securely in a shed or garage so they do not become wind-blown projectiles.
  • Store bird baths, hanging hooks, or other accessories in a secure area so they are not tangled, lost, or damaged by wind or debris.
  • Check any bird houses to be sure they are as secure as possible. If necessary, remove and store them unless birds are actively nesting.
  • Prune loose branches or any heavy branches overhanging your home before the storm, and consider adding them to a brush pile.
  • Use ropes or stakes to secure a brush pile so it will not be blown apart during the storm and expose any sheltering birds.

Stay Informed, Stay Safe

No matter what preparations you need to make, always keep your safety foremost in your mind. Staying informed and not panicking is essential, and the following resources can help you stay updated on storm information. Always check with your local emergency services and alert systems for more detailed local and regional information as well.

Visit the Be Your Own Birder Facebook page for ongoing updates about my own storm preparations and situation throughout hurricane season, and no matter where the wind takes you, happy birding!

Hurricane Frances 2004
Hurricane Frances Approaching Florida (2004)

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