Where Do Birds Go When It Rains?
In a full scale rain storm we are usually rushing so fast to get out of it that we don’t give birds a second thought, but it’s a good question, where do they go when it rains? The truth is, most of them don’t go anywhere, in fact some of them just treat a rain shower as a free wash. They just spread their wings, and allow the rainwater to clean their feathers.
Then once the rain stops, they will preen themselves and then carry on finding food. Birds have to spend quite a lot of their day finding food, this takes a lot of their energy which takes more food to build up more energy. This circle keeps on whether the sun is out or if it is raining.
However in really severe weather, many of our smaller birds seek shelter in hedges and tree hollows as it’s warmer huddled together, they will often shelter together. This is also a good way to keep safe as they don’t all have to watch for any predators braving the weather.
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Some birds will shelter under shrubs and in tree branches for a short while but that doesn’t last long as the hunt for food is continuous. While others seem to stand up tall with their wings spread out, almost as if they are enjoying getting soaked. There have been reports of pigeons standing with their wings lifted to the sky, almost like us when taking a shower. Birds feathers are coated in the oil they use to preen themselves which makes them fairly waterproof so as long as they are fairly healthy, they will continue searching for food even if it’s raining.
In really heavy rain showers, birds will stand with their bodies upright, their heads tucked in with their beaks pointing towards the sky. This allows them to conserve energy, save on heat loss and allow water to run straight off those oiled up feathers. Sometimes you might see groups of birds all huddled together to keep warm and minimise the amount of water hitting each bird.
Birds have evolved to cope well with inclement weather, they have compartments under their wings that trap tiny air pockets and it’s why down coats feel so warm. But if their feathers get too wet, those air pockets can fill with water making the birds’ body temperature drop dramatically, which could cause them to develop hypothermia.
Small Birds Get Colder Quicker
Due to their overall size, small birds have a far larger surface to body ratio which means their temperature drops far quicker than large birds in the same weather conditions. Plus their energy reserves are smaller too which puts them at more risk of hypothermia than large birds. During light showers small birds will fluff their feathers up to increase air flow and help them stay warm. During heavy rain showers they will flatten their feathers to allow the water to run straight off thanks to their preening oil which is fairly waterproof.
The preen gland (uropygial gland) is located at the base of their tails and they tuck their beaks under their tails and then spread the oil over their bodies with their beaks. They do similar after time spent in a bird bath or puddle etc.
Can Birds Fly In The Rain?
Most birds can fly short distances in the rain, relying on their preen oil to protect them from the wet. When they eventually become too waterlogged and have to land they are at the mercy of any predators that have braved the weather, so most will only take the chance if their roost or nest is close by.
With birds of prey, they can and do fly in the rain seeking out any struggling smaller birds to feast on. However their larger wings take longer to dry out after the rains and you can often spot them standing on poles or fences with their wings spread out drying off in the winds or occasional sunshine. These drying sessions can take a whole day, in between feeding flights, so keep a lookout for our native birds of prey especially after prolonged spells of rain.
How Does Rain Affect Different Types Of Birds?
Different bird types act in different ways when it’s raining, some actually enjoy it and others can usually survive even the heaviest of rain storms. Let’s look more closely at different bird types and how the rain affects them.
Birds That Live On Land
As we mentioned earlier, many birds can and do cope with rain showers on land, but there is a knock on effect that will see different birds doing better than others, and this is often overlooked by the average gardener who feeds the birds.
The first point to bring up is the energy loss that will affect all birds during prolonged rain showers, this needs to be addressed by birds as soon as possible and that leads us on to the next point.
During these times of energy deficit the birds need to feed whatever the weather is doing. Birds whose diet is made up from seeds should do OK even in prolonged rain storms, so will birds with a diet consisting of worms that tend to surface when the soil gets flooded, insect eating birds however, can severely suffer during long rainy days as the insects tend to remain largely inactive at these times, it’s a sad fact that birds can and do suffer from starvation and hypothermia during long periods of continuous rain.
If prolonged rainy periods develop during breeding season, many baby birds die due to lack of available food and hypothermia caused by getting wet and cold.
Birds That Survive By The Sea (Seabirds)
The larger seabirds will be able to ride out the storms and survive, even finding food as fish rise during rain. Most of the smaller seabird population move inland to find what shelter they can. If you are able to spot seabirds that spend most of their time far away from land along the coast line, you can be sure something big is happening out at sea, possibly a storm, hurricane or even natural disasters like pollution events.
Especially birds like pelicans and gulls, they usually fly out of the way of a storm so seeing them fly by or not seeing them at all can signify a storm is on its way.
Inland Aquatic Birds
Heavy rain presents opportunities for some birds, ducks can go and explore flooded fields in search of new food sources without the threat of their usual predators. Plus a wet season presents them with lots of insect larvae to consume.
Heavy Rain Showers And Bird Watchers
As soon as the storm or spell of heavy rain is over, there is a flurry of bird activity as they make up for lost feeding time. This is a great opportunity for us to spot more birds than usual and different varieties than usual too. If you can time your bird watching with the end of a prolonged rain shower you will be surprised at just how many, and how varied the bird population in your area is. Let us know in the comments below which types of birds you spotted that are not usually active in your area thanks to the bad weather.
What Can We Do To Help Birds In Heavy Rain Showers?
Most birds tend to survive rain storms pretty well but here’s what we can do to help them:
- Add Reflective Stickers To Windows And Patio Doors
According to scientific research from the USA over one billion birds die each year in the US and Canada from flying into windows.
- Plant Native Plants
To provide shelter, accommodation and food for the wild garden birds plant native bushes and shrubs, even wild flowers can provide food for our birdlife.
- Avoid Using Pesticides
Insectivores make up 96% of the bird population of the United States of America and we imagine a similar percentage here in the UK. If you enjoy watching birds, stop poisoning their main food source-it’s as simple and as harsh as that.
- Support Organic Food Suppliers
The production of organic food promotes healthier crop control-less harmful chemicals applied to crops-more insects for birds food.
- Reduce The Use Of Plastics
Approximately 91% of the world’s plastics are not recycled, this means it has to be burned to remove it. Burning plastics creates toxic gases that are harmful to all creatures on the planet including birds and humans.
If we want to continue enjoying watching the birds, we have to be mindful that we are actively creating an environment they can flourish in. More than 190 species of birds have become extinct since 1500 and the extinction rate appears to be rising. We are in a position to help prevent these modern day extinctions. We can support conservation projects, protect diverse bird habitats, make others aware of endangered species, share your enjoyment of bird watching to others and hopefully get them involved in matters of conservation too.
Frequently Asked Questions
Birds don’t really stay dry in the rain, they do have oils that help to keep their feathers resistant to water, but they still get wet. Many birds take shelter under bushes and in old logs but if the rain prevails they will eventually have to emerge to hunt for food.
Like us, birds do try to avoid the rain as much as they can. But they have to eat so eventually they will have to go out in the rain to find food.
Birds can fly in heavy rain, but not for long. They can suffer from energy deficits very quickly in heavy rain when flying. So they tend to either remain motionless to allow the water to run off their feathers or they will take shelter if they can.
Baby birds cannot survive heavy rains, so their parents cover the chicks with their wings. The oils in the adult birds feathers help to keep the feathers water resistant and this will keep the rain off the chicks.
Birds do not die just from getting wet, being too cold, wet and hungry will kill birds unless they can find adequate food quickly.
Birds don’t get rain in their eyes as they have a third eyelid which is transparent that allows them to face the rain and see relatively clearly.
Birds’ nests don’t get wet in normal rain down pours because one of the parents will be sitting on the eggs or chicks to keep them warm and dry. If the rain is torrential, and the nests get too wet, the eggs or chicks will get too cold and die.
Birds appear to go crazy before a storm because they have an internal organ in their ears that can sense low pressure. The going crazy bit is them frantically gathering as much food as they can before the storm hits.