Many birders have noticed birds will spend a longer time than normal bathing when a storm is coming. Afterward, they spend a significant time preening. Birds such as the quail, guinea fowl and mousebirds would take long dust baths, as if preparing their feathers for some sort of onslaught.
Many birds were affected by Hurricane Sandy, much like humans, especially those close to the devastated areas. Water birds, and seabirds especially, often show up out of their ocean environment and such was the case with this past week’s storm. A Leach’s Storm Petrel, a bird of the open ocean, was found in downtown Newburyport, where someone retrieved it from Interlocks Salon and Day Spa and a Dovekie, a member of the alcid family of birds, which includes puffins, was found trapped in a cellar!
Because birds are so attuned to shifts in barometric pressure, they can often sense ahead of time when a storm is brewing. Read here how birds stay safe during hurricanes.
But there’s little question that avian mortality increases during a hurricane, whether due to starvation, exhaustion, habitat destruction, or exposure to pounding rains. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo killed half of the wild parrots in Puerto Rico; a year earlier, Hurricane Gilbert decimated the population of Mexico’s Cozumel thrasher.
But it's important to remember that the long-term effects of hurricanes on birds aren't necessarily negative. Every disturbance event is bad for some species but good for others. For instance, hurricanes create gaps in forests, creating habitat for species that require a brushy understory. Birds blown off course occasionally establish entirely new populations; such events may be responsible for much, if not most, colonization of remote islands by birds. Furthermore, hurricanes have been around for a long time and are part of the system in which birds evolved. It is only when they have impacts on species already pushed to the brink by humans, or if hurricane activity is increased by global climate change, that there is cause for concern.
My thoughts are with all the victims of this terrible super-storm...