If you’ve ever wondered where birds go during bad weather, the answers might surprise you. While some birds might seek shelter and refuge from harsh elements, most are actually well-adapted to dealing with and surviving harsh weather.
Although birds make use of nests during the spring and summer when they’re breeding, they don’t use them to hide away throughout the year or during bad weather conditions.
Birds have several different ways of dealing with harsh weather conditions. Read on to find out how they behave in various types of weather and what they do to survive.
Where Do Birds Go During Bad Weather?
Birds have roosts, which are locations they head to when they want to sleep or seek shelter. These places help them to stay protected from the weather and predators.
But, they’re also built to handle bad weather. Unlike humans, birds have feathers on their bodies that overlap each other and are resistant to water. So, this essentially gives them a shield that they carry around with them to ensure the harsh weather doesn’t affect them.
Waterproof feathers aside, birds display different types of behavior to keep themselves safe and warm during harsh weather conditions. These include the following:
- They fluff out their feathers to give them even more protection against the elements. This traps heat so that they feel warm.
- They grow more feathers. Many birds grow more down feathers in the weeks before winter so that they will be more insulated against the upcoming harsh weather.
- They tuck their bills into their feathers. By tucking their bills, birds breathe in more warm air from their bodies, which keeps them warmer.
- They shiver. By shivering, birds create more heat so that they feel warmer. This is only a short-term solution and uses up more calories, so it’s only ideal when there is enough food for birds to consume enough calories.
- They huddle. Many birds huddle in flocks so that they can conserve energy and keep each other warm. Even ducks and geese are known to huddle and cuddle each other for warmth.
Where Do Birds Go When It’s Windy?
When the weather conditions are windy, birds may take cover until the weather improves. Their sheltering location can be a nest, hedge, or another hidden area, somewhere they can preserve their energy while steering clear of predators.
As long as the winds are not too strong, perching birds, known as passerines, use their feet to secure their hold on tree branches.
Some birds, such as magpies, are great at doing this as they maintain a perch with three toes placed forward and three toes placed backward, giving them a strong hold so they don’t fall.
By comparison, non-perching birds will stay out of the trees and fly in light wind. On a windy day, you’ve probably looked up at the sky and seen birds circling overhead, marveling at how they don’t fall from the sky or head straight for cover!
Birds have wings that work like suspension systems, so they can deal with sudden gusts of wind. They try to fly as close as they can to terrain and buildings to enable them to achieve this, which also ensures they can land safely on the ground.
Researchers from The Royal Society Publishing found that bird wings have a sweet spot—when a force of wind occurs close to this spot on their wing, it decreases how much disturbance is placed on the bird’s body, helping the bird to maintain its height and navigate in windy conditions.
Where Do Birds Go During A Storm?
If birds have to deal with something stronger than light rain, such as a thunderstorm, they’ll seek out a safe refuge. This isn’t because they are annoyed by the raindrops striking them, but because of the change in air pressure that occurs during a rainstorm.
When there’s a drop in air pressure, the air becomes less dense, with fewer molecules, and this is what makes it more difficult for birds to be able to fly. They require more energy in order to fly when the air is dense, so this is why they’ll choose to seek out shelter instead of using up their energy reserves.
Although we may assume that birds don’t mind the rain, studies have shown otherwise. In one study, researchers who studied birds in a rainforest in Costa Rica monitored their blood samples and discovered that the birds experienced higher stress hormones when it rained compared to days when the weather was better.
The researchers also found that the birds had higher levels of a chemical linked to burning stored fat, which was a sign that the birds weren’t able to eat enough food in such weather conditions.
During severe thunderstorms and hurricanes, birds use their instincts to stay safe. Research found that birds can tell when a bad storm is on its way because they are sensitive to barometric pressure. When this pressure decreases, birds know that a storm is coming so they take precautions.
What birds do during heavy, severe storms varies depending on their current situation and if they’re migratory or not.
- If birds were getting ready to migrate before the severe storm hit, they change their plans and fly at a later stage. If they have enough time before the storm, they might fly earlier so that they don’t get caught in it.
- Some birds choose to fly into the storm. While this sounds crazy, it’s been known to happen. An example is the migratory Chinquapin, which was recorded flying into Hurricane Irene in 2011. When birds fly into storms, they fly downwind into the gales that spiral faster towards the center of the storm. Then, they can reach the calmness within the storm, where they stop fighting the wind and stay in this calm spot as the storm moves.
- Other, non-migratory, birds can find refuge in their environment, such as in thick bushes or trees. This protects them from the wind’s force and also prevents them from getting wet.
Where Do Birds Go When It Rains?
When it rains, birds will usually go about their business as usual. This is why you’re still likely to still see them active. Their feathers trap the air and remove raindrops from their bodies so that they can stay warm!
You might have noticed that birds sit upright with their heads withdrawn and their beaks aimed at the weather in the rain. This helps them to reduce energy loss from their bodies, while also ensuring rain can’t reach them.
They might also preen their feathers, putting their bills into their oil glands so that they can nourish their feathers with oil and keep them in good condition.
Sometimes, birds will use rainy conditions to forage for food. For example, ducks might head to open fields as rain brings more bugs to the surface, and they’ll be able to enjoy their food without predators nearby.
Birds have to be opportunistic feeders to ensure they get enough food, especially if the weather is harsh. If the rain worsens, this motivates birds to seek shelter until the rain stops. They might head to thick bushes or into trees so that they can stay warm and safe from the pelting rain.
Where Do Birds Go When It’s Snowy?
When it snows, birds like to hunker down. During the cold season, some birds migrate to warmer regions so that they don’t have to endure the freezing temperatures and lack of food sources that go hand-in-hand with winter.
For the birds that stay where they are—smaller ones like chickadees and sparrows will huddle together and perch on a tree branch—this helps them to feel warm and save energy.
Other birds, such as owls and thrushes, will try to find hiding places where it’s warmer, such as in trees or holes in logs. This will allow them to escape the snowy conditions. A bonus of hiding out in places like these is that they are closer to food sources such as insects.
However, some birds will go into a hibernation state. They lower their body temperature to save energy, and it can help them to survive the cold.
Birds can preserve their body temperature at a lower level when they’re in this state, which is called regulated hypothermia. Birds can also enter this state if they’re battling to find sources of food.
The drawback of being in this state is that birds can become an easier target for predators, as their reaction times are not as fast. Birds don’t stay in this state for long—it can last for a few hours or overnight, so it’s ideal for especially icy, snowy days.
If the birds are lucky enough to get a bit of sunshine during the icy winters, they will quickly head out into the sun. They absorb as much solar energy as they can by turning their backs to the sun and lifting their feathers.
They also shiver, which helps them produce more body heat.
Below, we’ve answered two of the most frequently asked questions regarding birds and cold weather.
Why do some birds stand on one foot when it’s cold?
Birds tend to lose a lot of body heat through their feet and legs, which is why some of them stand on one leg when it’s cold. This helps to reduce their loss of heat.
Do birds build up fat reserves for the winter?
Birds need extra fat to get through the winter, insulate their bodies, and help them generate body heat. So, to achieve these fat reserves, they eat more during fall, when they have more access to lots of food .
In this article, we’ve looked at different bird behavior in different weather conditions, and how birds are able to survive devastating storms.
While we might think that birds are vulnerable to bad weather, we’ve seen that they have evolved to be able to adapt to a variety of harsh weather conditions.