Many natural disasters are unpredictable and can be devastating to humans and birds alike, but hurricanes do have some lead time that can help birders take steps to protect their backyard birds and take advantage of unusual birding conditions. By understanding how to care for wild birds before, during and after a hurricane, birders can stay safe from these powerful storms and keep their feathered friends protected as well.
Before the Hurricane Arrives
Backyard birders who are in a hurricane's projected path can easily take steps to protect their birds. While it is necessary to take steps to protect one's home and family first, these quick steps can be done in the days leading up to a hurricane to offer safety and sanctuary to storm-tossed birds.
- Check bird feeders, bird houses and bird baths for any damage or loose parts, and make repairs as necessary. Especially check weather guards and baffles to provide protection from the rain.
- Secure feeders tightly with closed hooks or on sturdy poles, or remove them just before the storm arrives and place them in a more sheltered location. If no sheltered area is available, take feeders completely down until the storm passes.
- Put up any available bird roost boxes in sheltered, covered locations to give birds an extra place to seek safety from the storm.
- Trim loose branches from nearby trees, particularly if they may be in danger of breaking in high winds. Add those branches to a brush pile for instant extra shelter, and rope down the top of the brush pile to secure it from becoming loose debris.
- Investigate all windows to be sure they are not hazards for birds that may be unsteady in shifting winds. Use decals, shutters or other techniques to prevent bird window collisions as much as possible.
- If time permits, volunteer at a local aviary, bird sanctuary or bird rescue organization to help secure their property against the impending storm.
During the Storm
During a hurricane, there isn't much that can be done to protect birds from the ravages of the wind, rains and flooding. Birds are well equipped to survive storms, however, and if birders have taken the appropriate steps prior to the storm, they have given their birds even better chances of survival. Depending on the storm's intensity, however, it may be possible to continue assisting birds. During a break in the storm, check feeders to ensure they are still filled and secure, and look for injured birds or dislodged nestlings. The best course of action during a hurricane, however, is to keep yourself safe and allow the birds to use their natural savvy and self preservation instincts to survive.
After the Hurricane
Once the storm has passed and it is again safe to return to affected areas or to stay outdoors, birders can help their backyard birds recover easily.
- Return feeders, houses and baths to their original locations or repair or replace them as soon as possible.
- Stock feeders with high quality seed, suet, fruit and other foods for birds, particularly if natural food sources such as berry bushes or fruit trees have been damaged by the storm.
- Check for injured birds or displaced nestlings and contact bird rescue organizations for assistance if necessary.
- Volunteer with bird rehabilitation organizations, aviaries or rescue centers to help them repair damage and care for an influx of storm-affected birds.
- Take time to visit local birding hotspots to check for vagrant birds that have been storm-tossed into your area, and keep an eye on bird sighting hotlines or listservs for unusual reports.
During a hurricane, it is most important to keep yourself, your home and your family safe, but if you keep the birds in mind you can be sure they are well protected, and you can enjoy their company as soon as the winds die down.
Photo – Hurricane Katrina © NASA Goddard Space Flight Center