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.
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.
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.