Birds in Bad Weather

Birds in Bad Weather

Much like the technology that alerts us to the arrival of bad weather, birds possess the ability to know the sky will soon darken and shelter must be sought. With some of the challenges birds face in today’s natural world, there’s nothing wrong with lending a helping hand when clouds gather on the horizon.

We all know birds have survived winters and storms for millennia without our input, but there is no harm in providing a few extra sources of food or shelter, especially if the part of the world we live in has removed some of those natural resources that birds used to rely on and now need to travel further to find.

There are ongoing debates about whether providing supplementary food for birds is good or bad for them, with one often-touted viewpoint being that we put out bird food more for our benefit than theirs, which of course is true for a lot of people; however, there are many people all over the world who perform this act with the sole intention of helping even just one bird get through a bad night. Studies have shown that during winter, the survival rate of local bird populations is greater in areas where humans provide assistance than in those where we don’t.

Create a place to hide from the storms and place food nearby.

It stands to reason that if you create a place to hide from the storms and place food nearby then something will take that opportunity. And birds are the best opportunists.

Whether a bad weather event is coming from out of the blue, or the season of cold and wet is upon us for the time being, there are several things you can do to make that situation less harsh for all involved, and we list them for you here.

Birds in the storm
Bird in the middle of the storm, Courtesy of Fer Nando, Unsplash.

1. Do you know the direction of the prevailing weather in your area?

Of course, you can just check this online, but take this chance to develop some observational skills. Take a look at your surroundings and note if any trees in the area have a particular one-sided lean to them, or if hedgerows have grown with a distinct flattened top with their uppermost branches reaching off in one direction.

Sometimes, sturdy seemingly upright trees also display a shape that resembles a tick or check mark, where the main trunk forms the upright part of the symbol, and a strong secondary branch shoots off to one side, which the majority of all the other smaller branches stem from. There is even a phenomenon called flag trees where only one side of the tree grows leaves. These are all indications of the predominant direction of the wind, and therefore the rain. Another thing to keep a look out for is moss – this is a water-loving organism and will thrive where water gathers. Think about the placement of your feeders when you first set them out with these things in mind.

Wind-bend tree
Wind-bend tree. Courtesy of Kurt Cotoaga, Unslash.

2. You need to keep the food dry

Some feeders dispense food as the seed is eaten from the bottom, and are often good at keeping the majority of the food free from rainwater, but some poorly made ones can let water trickle in. Other feeders are simple trays or platforms, therefore open to the elements.

Take this chance to develop some observational skills.

Whatever your type of feeder, placing it in a sheltered spot is the best thing you can do. If you don’t have such a position you can use, then consider taking the feeder in until the event has passed. After all, birds will not try to chow down in a downpour. Keep an eye on the skies and get your feeders right back out once it’s passed, as the birds will be hungry and out to forage.

3. Provide food

At feeders, birds need to have clear views of their surroundings to watch out for predators and also need to find shelter fast if the weather suddenly gets worse, but they may not have had a chance to feed and will still be hungry (birds are usually hungry). Scattering some seeds on the ground under hedges or at the base of trees, in any culverts, under decking, even along the edge of a wooded area can help out those in need of some sustenance closer to their hidey hole. Don’t go overboard, you don’t want to attract any four-legged critters too.

Bird food
High-energy food packed with fats and protein. Courtesy of Sean Foster, Unsplash.

Provide good quality, high-energy food that is packed with fats and protein like suet balls, peanuts, sunflower seeds and hearts, and Nyjer seeds. Winter and storms have something in common – they require a lot more energy than a calm, warm day and night to get through. Many birds can die in a single cold night, and access to this kind of food will build up those energy reserves and mean the difference between life and death.

Freezing temperatures and a lack of food are challenges all birds face in winter. Most manage using a few clever tactics and a little help from us. Read more!

5. Have some spare feeders at the ready

This not only gives birds more opportunities to stock up in the calm before the storm, but also means you have to venture out less in the foul weather to top up. Win-win.

6. Stay informed

Stay informed about what is coming your way. You can check for seasonal climatic trends, although those are shifting more now, but many online sites or apps can give you reasonably accurate predictions over the coming hours and up to a 10-to-25-day range. In the past, these were somewhat dubious, but advancement in the technology and access to records has improved their accuracy immensely. They can also provide crucial information like wind direction, precipitation volume, and humidity.

We defy anyone to pass by a welcoming hideaway from a wintry gale.

Some sites also provide radar features which are an excellent way to keep an eye on the approaching storm fronts and lightning strikes and give you time to make your move before getting yourself inside to the cosy dry warmth. If bad weather is predicted in a few days, check you have enough bird food in, or put it on your list for your next shopping run.

7. Put some boxes up

Even outside of breeding season, bird houses and nest boxes can be a welcome sight for many birds when bad weather hits. Lots of birds only use these structures during egg-laying season and then live out in scrub or trees and so on for the rest of their lives, but we defy anyone to pass by a welcoming hideaway from a wintry gale. Make sure it’s comfortable inside too, with some dry grass, hay or wood shavings on the bottom, but don’t use sawdust – this retains moisture from the atmosphere and will make the bird cold.

Birshouse in snow
Harsh winter conditions. Courtesy of Terijo, Unsplash.

Remember, when the weather finally breaks and relative calm or warmth returns, check your feeders and any houses you’ve put up, take them down if need be and clean and dry them thoroughly, then refill or re-furnish and put straight back up. But if you do get caught off guard by the gods of thunder and lightning, try not to feel too bad, as most birds will weather the storm.

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