What do birds do during a hurricane? CuriousNC finds few ruffled feathers.

More from the series

Read more from the CuriousNC project

What do you wonder about North Carolina? Help us find and investigate stories that matter to you.

Expand All

Before she evacuated Oak Island, Mary Ellen Rogers packed up a collection of feathered refugees: two pelicans, two hawks, five owls and a vulture.

As founder of Sea Biscuit Shelter, she cares for injured and orphaned shore birds — a caretaker to creatures with broken wings and feet caught in boat propellers.

So when Hurricane Florence hit, she gathered her most vulnerable patients and hoped the rest of bird population would hunker down.

It did.

“They don’t seem to care there was a hurricane,” Rogers said Wednesday. “They’re flying around like nothing happened.”

Her answer should be relief to Coy Powell, an Observer reader in Charlotte, who wrote Curious NC asking, “What do birds, especially water birds and hummers, do during Hurricane Florence? How do they even survive?”

A group of American white pelicans were spotted resting on Pinckney Island Wednesday afternoon. Chip Michalove

The answer comes to CuriousNC via Dale Scholfield, who is president of the Waccamaw Audubon Society. He advises that in general, a local bird population will take shelter and ride out a hurricane. The survival rate depends on the strength of the storm.

Migrating birds have it tougher, according to Audubon field editor Kenn Kaufmann, who in an Audubon interview said thousands of them heading south in September have no clue what weather they will find.

When they hit a hurricane, Kaufmann said, these tiny fliers will travel with the storm’s spiral until they find themselves inside the eye. Once there, they follow the storm safely inside its center. They may fight their way back out once they reach land or get too tired from flying without food.

In Audubon, Kaufmann noted especially the story of a whimbrel named Machi, who flew through Hurricane Irene in 2011 before landing in the West Indies before being shot by a hunter.

“They’re pretty tough birds,” he said. “I’d doubt that little warblers and thrushes could do that.”

Another first for Carl Berube -- a whimbrel, spotted at Pinckney Island NWR. Submitted photo

Not that Florence left coastal birds competely unscathed.

At SkyWatch Bird Rescue in Castle Hayne, founder Amelia Mason got calls for about two dozen injuries, mostly black skimmers who had been battered in the wind. They came in exhausted and thin, some of them needing to be euthanized.

But they could have fared far worse she said, noting that after the storm, she tossed cat food pellets to floating waterfowl.

At Sea Biscuit in Oak Island, Rogers said she returned to find the birds seemingly untouched by the storm. After two days back, she had no reports of injured birds.

“I’ve had about 15 calls for squirrels,” she said. “But I don’t do squirrels.”

She noted that before she left, she tried to round up a great egret she had released five years ago. It had a habit of coming to the shelter for food every day, but on the day she evacuated, it seemed skittish and couldn’t be caught.

But on the day she got back from her evacuation, it showed up on its normal schedule.

No feather ruffled.

Josh Shaffer: 919-829-4818, @joshshaffer08

Ask CuriousNC about hurricane recovery:


Can't see a place to enter your question? Follow this link, instead.

Follow more of our reporting on CuriousNC

See all 10 stories
Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer