Hurricane disrupts bird flight, habitats

  • Birds are part of farm life but can get swept away in a hurricane. Carole Soule / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Thursday, September 28, 2017

As I watched from my window, a chickadee parent fed her baby, also in flight. The young bird grabbed the meal and continued on its way. The bird parents were teaching their babies how to grab insects in mid-air by feeding them in flight.

That was earlier this year and by now, early fall, the babies are all fully trained in the art of mid-air feeding and are feasting on insects to make it through the winter.

Birds are always with us until they aren’t. Recently, hurricanes have pounded the Carribean; not just once but many times.

Irma destroyed the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas and St. John, but just missed St. Croix, also a U.S. Virgin Island where I have family and have frequently visited. While many hurricanes have touched down on St. Croix, the worst was Hugo in 1989. The 27-mile island was not only devastated by Hugo but when it was gone, so were the birds.

Apparently, birds can get sucked into the calm eye of the hurricane and travel with the eye rather than fight the winds.

Birds also may find cover when possible. For example, an injured Cooper’s hawk, now known as Harvey, took refuge in a taxi in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. With a broken wing and in shock, the bird was given to the TWRC Wildlife Center and is expected to make a full recovery.

If birds survive a hurricane, and somehow manage to find their way back home, they are faced with habitat destruction that can last for decades.

This year what Hurricane Irma missed, Maria finished off. Two weeks after Irma destroyed St. Thomas and St. John, St. Croix was demolished by Hurricane Maria, who probably took the birds with her. With trees and farms stripped of vegetation and no birds to eat them, the bee and wasp population will be hungry and get aggressive just like they were after Hurricane Hugo. It’s true, life on a demolished island is a hardship made worse without birds.

The barn and sheds here at Miles Smith Farm are filled with birds getting ready for the winter. Birds mean droppings that cover the hay and equipment but I’m not going to complain. It’s better to have birds and barns with roofs than not.

The hurricanes are far away but the pain should be felt by each of us. We can only hope that the birds find their way home and the U.S. Virgin Islanders get help to recover from their devastation. Let’s all be grateful for our birds and our roofs. Life would not be the same without them.

(Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, in Loudon, where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at cas@milessmithfarm.com.)