A study conducted by wildlife biologist David Andersen, together with the US Geological Survey and the University of Minnesota found interesting results. Apparently, birds are capable of sensing upcoming storms, an ability that gives them enough time to flee and protect themselves against dangerous weather conditions.
The study was focused on golden-winged warblers in the United States and was published in the Current Biology journal. Using tracking devices, scientist were able to observe how these small 9 gram birds started leaving their breeding grounds located in the Cumberland mountains of eastern Tennessee one or even two days before the storm system (consisting of 84 tornadoes and high winds) hit the central and southern part of the United States.
Ecologist Henry Streby at the University of California, Berkeley said that although they knew that birds could modify their route during regular migration it was the first time they had ever documented this type of “storm avoidance behavior in birds during breeding season”.
The powerful weather event took place in late April 2014, killing 35 people, destroying many homes, ripping trees out of the ground and hurling cars in every direction.
At the time of the storm, the warblers were already in safe conditions. This was possible due to the speed at which they were flying. The birds were able to reach great distances (close to 930 miles), scientist tracking them in places such as Florida and Cuba. The warbles returned to their breeding grounds as soon as the storm passed.
The moment birds started fleeing, the local weather conditions were still at a standard level, as the storm was still hundreds of miles away. Therefore, changes that occur in weather conditions of this kind such as variations in atmospheric pressure, temperature and wind speed were still undetectable.
Researchers believe that this “sixth sense” could be linked to birds’ ability to perceive sounds that humans cannot. The hypothesis states that birds could detect acoustic waves with frequencies below 20 hertz, lower than the normal limits of human hearing. These waves are called infrasounds and can be a result volcano eruptions, even if they are situated at great distances, winds blowing and the crashing of ocean waves. Another source of strong infrasound is tornadoes.
Henry Sterby stated that more and more studies conclude that due to climate change, tornadoes will become a common and even stronger weather event. Given the conditions, drastic measures such as fleeing the breeding ground will become necessary.
Image Source: Nature Travel Network