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Superstorms Can Benefit Bird-Watchers

The strong winds and wide areal extent of hurricane Sandy brought birds from all over to the northeast US

northern lapwing

Northern Lapwings, normally found in Europe, were seen flying in the skies of Manhattan following hurricane Sandy. Photo: Goran Bength

For all its effects on human settlements, Hurricane Sandy seems to have done little damage to the wild animals caught in the storm’s path, says The New York Times. So far as researchers can tell, “there is remarkably little evidence that birds, or any other countable, charismatic fauna for that matter, have suffered the sort of mass casualties seen in environmental disasters like the BP oil spill of 2010.”

What’s more, the local megafauna seem to have not only made it through the storm okay, but, much to the delight of bird watchers, the high winds of the storm brought rare and exotic birds to the northeast and far from their regular roosts.

As an enormous hybrid of winter and tropical storm fronts with a huge reach, it pulled in a far more diverse group of birds than the average hurricane, and Web sites like ebird.org and birdcast.info were alive with thrilled reports of exceptional sightings — of the European shorebird called the northern lapwing showing up in Massachusetts; of Eastern wood-pewees that should have been in Central and South America suddenly appearing again in New York and Ontario; of trindade petrels, which normally spend their entire lives over the open ocean off Brazil, popping up in western Pennsylvania; and of flocks of Leach’s storm-petrels and pomarine jaegers, arctic relatives of gulls, making unheard-of tours far inland and through Manhattan.

The Times says that bird-tracking studies have shown that birds are generally able to get back to the areas from whence they came. Nonetheless, these avian examples are a demonstration of the power of extreme weather to disperse species of all types to far-off lands. Storms’ strong winds have been heralded as the driving force behind the spread of an range of creatures, from sea turtles, to iguanas, to plants of all sorts.

More from Smithsonian.com:
Migrating Moths Can Travel As Fast As Songbirds
Even Close Subspecies of Migrating Birds Can’t Agree on the Best Route

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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