When the rain comes pouring down, we humans have an array of options to keep ourselves dry and comfortable. But what about birds? Where do they go when it rains? Do they brave the storm or hide away until the skies clear?
The answer, as it turns out, is a little of both. Birds are equipped with waterproof feathers that allow them to repel light rain with ease. They pick up oil from their preen glands and spread it all over their feathers, creating an oily coating that repels water. This works well in light rain, but when it really pours, birds take different measures to stay dry.
Some birds take shelter to keep their feathers dry. They may huddle together for warmth or hide under shrubs or in dense bushes and trees. This is especially true for small birds, which are at risk of hypothermia when their feathers get wet.
But not all birds are deterred by heavy rain. Some species, like ducks, geese, and gulls, are frequent rainy flyers. They can fly in the rain for short distances thanks to their oily feathers, but flying in heavy rain can be difficult and energy-intensive. Strong winds can make it even more dangerous.
Seabirds, which are some of the strongest flyers and are no strangers to water, also have different strategies for dealing with storms. Some take detours to avoid cyclones, while others head inland. Some particularly adventurous seabirds fly right into the eye of the storm, a tactic that’s thought to aid their survival by preventing them from being blown onshore where they might face flying debris.
It’s clear that different bird species have different reactions to rain. Some love to bathe in it, splaying their feathers to ensure a good soaking. Others take cover and wait for the storm to pass. And some are able to fly through it with ease. Whatever their approach, all birds need to eat, so at some point during a storm, they’ll have to brave the weather and go in search of food.
So next time it’s raining and you’re wondering where all the birds have gone, remember that they’re probably hiding away or flying through the storm, just like us. And while we humans have umbrellas and raincoats to protect us, birds have their own tricks to stay dry and comfortable in fowl weather.
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