Thinking of Wildlife As The Hurricane Nears

Let’s sit and talk and talk. It’s so nice, so warm and cozy here. Listen to the wind. There’s something in Turgenev – “On such a night, happy he who has a roof over his head and a warm corner of his own.” I’m a sea gull… No, that’s not what I mean. I’m sorry. What was I saying? Oh, yes, Turgenev. “And may the Lord help homeless wanderers.”

The Sea Gull by Anton Chekhov
(English Version by Jean-Claude Van Itallie)

Nina’s lines from Act Four of The Sea Gull often spring to my mind in the anticipatory hours before a big storm. Scientists say that most storms have relatively little effect on wildlife at the species level, meaning a bad storm, even if it destroys many individual animals, is unlikely to permanently affect populations of species. But thanks to anthropogenic climate change, we’re now seeing an increase in the number of “severe weather events,” from storms to droughts to seasonal changes that, taken together, are already affecting some species. Still my thoughts in a storm are not about the fate of a species, but about the suffering of individuals, animal and human.

Luckily for our local wildlife, Hurricane Sandy is arriving well past nesting season. Most of our young animals are on their own by now, and many birds have already migrated south. NYC’s resident wildlife will probably do pretty well, over all. The raccoons of Riverside Park should be safe in their retaining wall.

Songbirds will hunker down, lock their toes onto a protected branch, hold their feathers tight against their bodies, point themselves in the direction of the wind, and hold on for dear life as the wind blows past and the rain pelts down.

Feathers can effectively seal out water.

As long as the branch survives, the birds probably will, too. Cavity nesters, like owls and woodpeckers, are even better protected, tucked into natural holes in tree trunks. And squirrels, too, will find a hole in a tree or in the retaining wall, or they’ll burrow into their dreys, thick nests of leaves that they build high in the trees.

If their tree withstands the storm, these creatures will emerge when wind and rain abate to fluff their fur and feathers, and search for food.

Migrating birds are more vulnerable. Exhausted by their travels, their energy reserves depleted, they must find food and shelter wherever they may be. Migrating birds may be blown hundreds of miles off course. Songbirds may be blown out into open sea where they can find no shelter or rest, while pelagic birds may be blown inland.

What may be a disaster for birds – being blown far from their native habitat – offers thrills for birders, who rush out into the aftermath of a storm to search for rare vagrants they might otherwise never encounter.

Tonight in New York City, the wind is starting to gust, although the storm is still hours away. I look out at the strangely quiet streets from my cozy apartment, and hope that all creatures find shelter from tomorrow’s storm.

Explore posts in the same categories: 2012, Art and Literature, Birds, Fall, In the City, NYC Parks, raccoons, Riverside Park, Seasons, Squirrels, Wildlife/Natural History

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15 Comments on “Thinking of Wildlife As The Hurricane Nears”

  1. Thanks for this excellent and thoughtful post. Empathy the key to our interconnectedness.

  2. […] Thinking of Wildlife As The Hurricane Nears ( […]

  3. […] surprised to see geese and seabirds flying about.  In a comment on my early morning post about wildlife in the hurricane, Kelly Rypkema of Nature in a New York Minute posted a link to a fascinating article that describes […]

  4. it’s heartening to see I’m not the only one who worries about wildlife. My obsession is the deer in the woods above my house when there’s a blizzard.

  5. mthew Says:

    Another factor: tropical storms bring tropical birds with them, blown around like so many Dorothy Gales. The strangest birds can be seen. Unfortunately, many of these probably do not make it back home. But, individual misfortune can be of benefit to the species via science. If you find an unusual dead bird on the beach, the American Museum of Natural History and other such institutions would probably like to have the body. Freeze it until you can get it to them, and be sure to take good notes about where and when you found it.

  6. margot truini Says:

    Nice post…when we have huge storms here I always wonder about the birds and other creatures. Amazingly many return hungry for the seed I put out for them. I always figure the elk and deer are grateful for the deep snow that keeps the hunters away, although their food is scarce…animals are amazingly tough compared to us, their needs so basic and simple…not credit card debt,house payments, presidential elections….they live and die in simplicity without the illusion we call our lives.

  7. Karol Omlor Says:

    This post brought tears to my eyes, Melissa…and a big hug for my little poodle all snug in my lap.

  8. I was thinking about writing a post about this, but now I don’t have to, because I couldn’t have said it better. Here is a link to one of the more interesting and inspiring articles I found on the subject:

    Inspiring for the information in it about how migrating birds deal with hurricanes. (Although beware, it ends on a somber note.) I’ll certainly be paying attention to the appearance of wildlife immediately after the storm passes. It’s amazing to me what they can do.

  9. Barbara Says:

    My thoughts and prayers go out to you, and all in NYC which is facing such a huge storm surge today. Hope you are safe. Like you, my concern is the severity and frequency of the weather “events” as the weather people call them, that we are seeing now due to climate change and human interference in nature.

    Be safe, and well and we’ll both cross fingers for the wild things I’m sure.

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