How crows cope with storms

Provided the forecast for possibly historic weather conditions, people all over the PNW are preparing themselves for heavy rain, wind, and the falling trees, debris and power outages that may follow as a result.  For many (though sadly not all) people, these preparations may be as simple as a trip to the grocery store and a commitment to stay within the safety of their homes for the weekend.  But what becomes of our wildlife?  How might they weather the predicted 60mph winds and stay warm enough to survive such conditions?

Despite their delicate reputation, birds are well adapted to survive even intense weather.  This is perhaps unremarkable, given that survival is really the name of the game and that stochastic weather conditions are an inevitable part of an animal’s life. To prepare for such weather events, some research suggests that birds and other animals are sensitive to the pressure drops that anticipate severe weather and increase their food intake as a result1. Since foraging may be altered or inhibited during bad weather, this kind of preparation goes a long way to keep birds sated.  For this reason, making sure feeders are kept stocked or offering high nutrition items such as bird friendly corn bread is the best way you can aid your feathered companions in advance of a storm.

Precisely what a bird does during the height of the storm comes down largely to its life history, such as whether it is a cavity nester and rooster, and whether it’s migratory or residential. For cavity nesting and roosting species such as woodpeckers and chickadees, natural and artificial cavities like bird houses can make good retreats.  Birds that do not already make use of cavities such as crows or hummingbirds, however, will find refuge in the dense vegetation of conifer trees or shrubs.  While the exteriors of trees and shrubs may take a beating, their interior microhabitats can be substantially drier, warmer, and more stable, providing a suitable space for birds to wait out the worst of a storm in safety. Migratory birds on the other hand can simply fly around areas of heavy wind.  As a last resort they may even take shelter in some odd places, like a public restroom.

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A marabou stork finds refuge from hurricane Matthew in a bathroom at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park. Photo c/o Gen Anderson/via AP

Even if the crows are getting blown around a bit, their hold on a perch is at little risk of giving way.  Since crows are passerines (aka perching birds), their feet lock around a perch at rest, meaning that rather than taking energy to hold on, it actually takes effort to let go.  This keeps them well secured even in windy conditions.  Lastly, their feathers keep them  protected from the rain and cold temperatures that may accompany a bad storm.  Although crows will articulate their feathers for certain kinds of behavioral displays, puffing their feathers also traps insulating air and with it, heat.

 

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A crow puffs its feathers on a chilly morning

So if you find yourself worried about what may become of your crow neighbors over the weekend, take comfort that there is little to worry about.  These animals are adapted to sense and prepare for bad weather, find locations that offer safety, and have the physiology to withstand the kind of weather that makes us want to stay in bed.

Literature cited

8 Comments

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8 responses to “How crows cope with storms

  1. Elle

    Thank you! Excellent info! This means those crow protein bars were just in the nick of time, and hopefully, the chickadees will make use of the faux trees and nesting box, if needed.

  2. Suzanne Hewett

    I have noticed that when rain is coming ( but not there yet, I will see crows all alongthe sidebanks of roadways –yes they feel the change in air pressure–but I wonder what they are doing doing there. They seem to be feeding -maybe getting gravvel—or do worms come to the surface before a rain?????CAN ANYBODY GIVE ME AN EDUCATED EXPLANATION FOR THIS BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN WONDERING FOR A VERY LONG TIME!!
    THANKS VERY MUCH 🙂

    • Hi Suzanne, while most insects hide out from the rain some do surface specifically during this time, making them more accessible to hungry birds. Some terrestrial insects, for example, come out when it rains to release mate attracting pheromones. Worms also surface during wet weather but it is not to escape from drowning as many people think. The wet terrain simply allows them to migrate across the surface of the ground which in other conditions would likely make them dry out. The reason they do it makes no difference to the crows though, who certainly take the opportunity to gorge on protein rich worms!

  3. Thank you for all your information. So very nice to amongst humans that are pro-crow.

  4. aahlookout

    How about the crow commute? I’d been wondering whether the crows would go as far from their roost as usual in the morning, or what happens if a storm comes up while they’re out and about for the day and the journey back to the roost could be dangerous – I’m guessing they’d have a sense of the storm coming and not travel as far in the first place? Or would they work their way back to the roost slowly, or not try to get back until the weather settled down?

    • Great question and not one I have the answer to. Certainly once it hits they wouldn’t make the trip to the roost until things cleared up. We don’t have very good sense though for how far in advance of a storm birds can detect those changes, so there’s no data for me to say when or if they would decide not to venture far form the roost. Great questions!

  5. Suzanne Hewett

    I have noticed over and over again while travelling by car that I see many more crows than usual on the ground on the sides of the roads and yes seemingly feeding It came to the point that I could predict rain from ghis phenomenon. Now I know why- they sense air pressure and also eat more to prepare.

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