Friday, January 15, 2010

Apple #431: Birds in the Rain

Forgot until late tonight that I meant to make a new post.  Since I didn't leave myself much time, I'm going with a short, quick one, a question that's puzzled me for quite a while now:

Where do birds go when it rains?  They seem to disappear when it's raining.

A corollary to this: my mom has a saying, if you see a bird out during a rainstorm, you know it's going to rain all day.  This seems to be true, but why?

A downpour in Moscow, Russia.  The rain is really coming down, and there are lots of trees and leaves. But where are the birds?
(Photo by Charles Ganske from Russia Blog)

  • Mainly, they take shelter on tree branches under clumps of leaves.
  • Their feet have special muscles that default into a clamped position, so when they land on a branch, their toes "rest" in a way that holds them to the branch. This is what keeps birds from falling while they're asleep and it enables them to hang on when it's windy.
  • If it's too windy as well as rainy, they stay out of the trees and duck under thick, leafy bushes for shelter.
  • Birds that live on grassy plains will huddle under thick bunches of grass.
  • Birds who live near mountains will take shelter in a cave or under overhanging rocks.
  • Birds such as woodpeckers who live in holes in trees go hide out there.
  • If there's no place for them to go to stay dry, they tough it out in the wet. 

A pair of goldfinches waiting out the rain
(Photo by It's Greg, sourced from Purple Wren)

  • I suppose if the rain is steady enough, they've already gotten soaked so they figure what's the point of hiding out somewhere, better go get food for the day.  So this may be why my mom's saying about birds in the rain seems to be true.

This bird is quite the opportunist -- taking shelter and getting a bite to eat.
(Photo from Wild Birds Unlimited)

  • Most species of birds have feathers that can handle rain.  Their feathers are able to shed enough rain so it won't penetrate their feathers through to their skin. (Here's a link to a photo that will show you how the water beads up on feathers. This particular bird is a northern gannet [copyright Arthur Morris/Birds as Art].)
  • If it's going to be a super-bad storm, birds can tell it's coming. They have a little receptor in their middle ear called the Vitali organ, which is very sensitive to changes in air pressure.  When they get the signal that the air pressure is plunging, they take off and fly like mad ahead of the storm.
  • Some birds can't fly that fast.  If they're also not able to hide successfully from the big monster storms like hurricanes and tornadoes, they get sucked in. Sometimes land-dwelling birds get blown out to sea or vice versa.
  • The eye of a hurricane can become, effectively, a bird cage, where birds that have been sucked into the storm are tooling around, waiting until it's safe to fly out of it.  
  • Often, by the time the big storm subsides, the birds have arrived someplace very far from their original stomping grounds.  
  • Birders like to go looking for unusual species after big storms because sometimes they find birds that normally live way out over the ocean walking around on land, sort of dazed, looking for home.

This stunned little bird is trying to dry out after Hurricane Ike in Houston.  The person who took this picture said the bird didn't try to hop away or  even move when he approached with his camera.
(Photo by chrisamiller on Ask Metafilter)

  • After it stops raining, birds puff and fluff up their feathers to shake off the rain. 

Sources, How Birds Stay Safe During Hurricanes 
April Holliday, WonderQuest, Birds huddle under leaves when it rains 
Lisa Shea, Birds Surviving Hurricanes and Storms 
Wild Birds Unlimited, Can Birds Predict the Weather?


  1. Another thing I've always wondered about birds: There are so many in the sky but you rarely see a dead one on the ground. Where do they go to die?

  2. I stumbled across your blog simply by clicking the "next blog" button. I love it. Great idea, I really love it.

  3. Today, while it was raining heavily here in North Central FL, we had a TON of birds out on the ground and at our feeder - and true enough, it's been raining all day. We live on 2.5 acres surrounded by tons of trees, so they can hide if they want...but, they choose to enjoy the rain, I think.

  4. Thank you! I've been wondering about this lately and it's been driving me crazy. Right now there's a serious thunderstorm outside-so hopefully all our local birds took flight or at least are huddled in our bushes.
    Cool blog.

  5. As a yound child growing up on a farm in Mississippi, I used to wonder where did birds disapper while it rained? I also thought they were sleeping and after the bad weather, birds came back to sing songs enjoy the company of their feather friends.

  6. I have a bird that is at my window every morning. I miss him when he doesn't tap at my window and sing in the morning...I believe he's been doing this for a few summers now and I just want to be assured that he's ok during bad weather. Because really this little guy, my "buddy", gives me a little piece of joy and happines everyday. I feel blessed to have him a part of my life even if its only a few months out of the year.


If you're a spammer, there's no point posting a comment. It will automatically get filtered out or deleted. Comments from real people, however, are always very welcome!