Birds drowning in hurricanes

I’ve done an archive search, and though Unca Cece deals with turkeys drowning, he doesn’t touch on this one.

While recently reading two books I came across this “fact” in each:
During a hurricane, the air becomes so saturated with water that birds drown because of their upturned nostrils.

The quotes were in The perfect Storm (the movie adaptation of the book will be out this summer) and Isaac’s Storm, the story of the 1900 hurricane which hit Galveston, Texas.

Since both books delve into the meteorological aspects of the development of storms and their effects on towns and fishing fleets, I’m assuming that each of the authors got this incredible fact from the same source.

Does anyone know the source of this “fact”, and is it verifiable?


Actually we’ve had two serious hurricanes hit within the last few years, I never noticed any dead birds, my thoughts would be that most animals sense an impending storm and take cover as such. But ya know, I’d like to know that too if someone has the answer.

I don’t know about drowning, but I suspect wind would be a bigger problem. With wind speeds of 75+ m.p.h., that bird would probably become a feathered missle, and end up imbedded in a tree within moments.

My sentiments exactly, Diceman. Hence, my reason for tracking down this spurious, and heretofore unreferenced, cite.

Chief, the impression I got from The Perfect Storm was that, if the storm gets strong enough, the border between the seawater and the air becomes unclear. There then is a zone of windblown water and foam on top of the seawater. The book mentions the danger to the rescue jumpers under these conditions because they can make it from the helicopter into the water and then be unable to breathe at the water’s surface. A seabird caught at sea when the storm hits might go to surface to escape the wind and be unable to breathe or take off again.
I also don’t buy the “upturned nostrils” factor.

True, Al. But the reference to the birds drowning is in the section of the book where the author is describing the effects of the nor’easter on the North Atlantic Coast. As was stated in an earlier post, a bird caught in the air above the sea during Force 12 winds would have a lot more to worry about than upturned nostrils.

The effects of Hurricane Grace and the unnamed storm which came out of Canada were, to put it mildly, hurricane-like from Newfoundland south past Nova Scotia down to New Jersey. Since this author and the Isaac’s Storm writer both used the same quote, they probably both got it from the same source in doing their research.

I want to find this source and verify the cite.

Gratuitous bump.

Chief, I’ve been looking - but without much success.

I found a response to How do birds survive storms? on the Mad Scientist Network. The zoologist making the reply says birds do die in hurricanes, but he doesn’t go into how they die. He says, “I have not yet been able to uncover any evidence in the literature for the effect of hurricanes on birds…” so he’s not a lot of help.

This page has a fun fact that birds can be trapped in the hurricane’s eye.

And I found a very cool picture of flamingos being sheltered from a hurricane in a men’s room.

I’ll keep looking.

For obvious reasons, we cannot know right now how the birds die in the hurricanes for sure. We cannot go into the hurricane winds and directly observe the effects, and if we could come up with some farfetched way, no one would care enough to fund it.

What we do know is that birds are picked up at point A by a hurricane and are dropped, in shambles, at point B. Point A can be hundreds of miles from point B. Hurricanes have even dropped oceanic species (which normally would NEVER come ashore unless to breed, much less inland) tens — or even hundreds — of miles away from the shore.

(The term “water bird” is very broad and not even a taxonomic classification. I assume you are referring to the birds of the open ocean and not ducks, grebes, etc.)

From The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds, by John K. Terres:

This encyclopedia also indicates that Roger Tory Peterson published a lengthy list of “hurricanes that have carried birds far north of their tropical homes” in his book Birds Over America. If you are interested, you can check that book out from your local library. (I sound like Lavar Burton, don’t I? :smiley: )

Baisically, birds die in hurricane winds of exhaustion, starvation, or drowning in the water while trying to land or just crashing into the sea. The flapping birds, such as petrels and gannets, have to stay airborne, or else drown in the turbulent waves. Staying airborne would require the bird to withstand the strong winds pounding against it while flapping enough to maintain flight control. By the time the storm dissipates, the birds are left on the ground inland, their reserves depleted from exhausting so much energy on flight without ever eating. These birds are now inland, and oceanic birds do not, in a normal lifetime, ever see inland areas, and cannot eat food unless they reach the sea once more. This would be impossible for albatrosses and other dynamic soarers because A) they cannot flap to take off B) they need to run a great distance in order to take off from land and C) they need a strong wind to assist takeoff.

I don’t know for sure if they drown by water condensing inside they lungs and air sacs. If a sufficient amount of water condensed in the lungs and air sacs very fast, the increased difficulty breathing and reuced amount of oxygen obtained may tire them and the additional weight make them heavier so that they cannot maintain altitude and crash into the ocean, the waves drowning them. The water in the lungs and air sacs could not directly drown them, though.

However, a lot of water would have to come into the body extremely quickly and forcefully because the bird could just open its bill and let water drown out of its choana. Also, unlike mammals, birds empty all air out of the lungs and air sacs each time they exhale, so water must come fast enough so that the bird cannot get enough air before the lungs fill up with water. This kind of thing will almost never happen unless the surroundings are almost completely water.
P.S. Many oceanic seabirds are tubenoses, and as such do not have “upturned nostrils”. :smiley:

That should read:

the bird could just open its bill and let water drain out of its choana

I was able to convince Sebastian Junger’s publisher that I wasn’t a wacko and was able to get the author’s e-mail address.

I sent him the following query this morning:

*Mr. Junger,

I'm a chief petty officer assigned to the public affairs office aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). The IKE is currently deployed for six months to the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean.
Much of my off duty time at sea is consumed with reading. I recently completed The Perfect Storm and wanted to contact you for two reasons.
The first: I really enjoyed your book. You were able to bring the experience of being at sea in a storm into countless living rooms around the country. I can sympathise with the number and length of interviews which must be conducted with the principals involved in the story you are trying to tell. Additionally, the background research you conducted must have been extensive. This brings me to the second reason for e-mailing you.
You stated in The Perfect Storm that birds often drown during hurricanes "because of their upturned nostrils."
I came across the same statement in another recent book which dealt with the 1900 hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas -- Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm. I assume, maybe spuriously, that the research both of you conducted may have overlapped and that this fact may have come from the same cite.
Was this statement culled from your research or did you come by it through an interview? If it was a result of your research, do you recall its source? Tracking down this information would help me complete a project on which I am working.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your next appearance on the shelves of my favorite bookstore.*

I, as always, will keep the TM updated.

Please check out this thread’s companion thread.

Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.