May 21 2008

Weather mortality

Published by at 7:01 am under Weather & Sky

Rain clouds over Greenfield, Pittsburgh, PA

Tornadoes and cyclones kill people, but did you know that merely lousy weather kills birds?

The past few weeks have been miserable here in Pittsburgh.  My cellphone picture from last Sunday tells it all.  It has rained nearly every day, sometimes it's windy, always it's cold.  It's been bad for farmers and gardeners and anything that lives outdoors.

The birds who eat insects, such as chimney swifts and swallows, have taken it on the chin.  Insects hide from the cold so there's less to eat, but that's precisely when the birds need more food to maintain their body temperature.

I haven't seen as many chimney swifts and swallows as I'd expect at this time of year.  The ones who haven't arrived yet from the south are probably lucky.  It's been so miserable that a flock of chimney swifts gave up for the day at 3:00pm last Wednesday.  I saw them spiral around a chimney and drop in to roost where they clung to the inside to wait out the cold.  I hope the chimney was not fed by a furnace.  We all had our furnaces on.

Bluebirds have suffered too.  They lay their first eggs in April and fledge their first brood in May, feeding them insects from the fields around their nests.  Len Hess reported on PABIRDS that 23 of out of 28 baby bluebirds died in the nest boxes he monitors in Westmoreland County.  The young birds were healthy and doing fine the previous week but the cold and rain spelled disaster.  The same was true for Fred Zahradnik's bluebirds in the eastern part of the state where they experienced a nor'easter.

This morning there's a break in the clouds.  Tomorrow the weather is supposed to change, bringing sun and temperatures in the 60s and 70s for the weekend.

Thank goodness for all our sakes!

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Weather mortality”

  1. Lauren Conkleon 25 May 2008 at 9:39 am

    I hope the loss of all those baby bluebirds doesn’t affect the local population too much. I love to see bluebirds perched on power lines when I’m driving through the country. Will the bluebird parents who lost their young recently still be able to produce more than one brood this year?

  2. Kate StJon 26 May 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Yes, they normally lay two clutches per year, sometimes three.

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