Feathered forecasters might be better than people at predicting the hurricane season.
I received a message this summer from my colleague Bree Driscoll, who is a national anchor for Spectrum News NY1.
She had been watching a series on Netflix called Connected and said they did a story about how birds could predict how intense the hurricane season would be. She asked if I had seen it and if it was true?
At first, I scoffed, thinking that it was impossible, but one night, I found myself with nothing to watch, so I checked out the episode and was amazed.
Delaware State University professor Christopher Heckscher studies the nesting habits of the Veery. It’s a songbird, and each spring it travels from Brazil to the east coast to nest and breed.
They arrive in mid-spring for most years and start laying eggs in early May.
Since 1998, the nesting times of the birds have been recorded. It was noticed that the time that the birds stopped trying to hatch eggs varied by a few weeks some years.
At first, researchers couldn’t find a relationship between the time that nesting ended and any environmental factors. They were stumped.
But then, Delaware State University professor Christopher Heckscher had an idea. He checked to see if the nesting data might match up with hurricane history.
The tiny birds typically make their migration back to Brazil from the east coast during the early autumn, which is the peak season for tropical activity.
The data matched. In years that the nesting ended earlier than average, there were more storms.
By ending the nesting early, the birds could begin their nearly 4,000 mile trip to their winter homes in South America sooner. This would allow them to wait out large storms, or alter their path around storms, and still arrive on time in Brazil.
During years that the birds nested later than average, the tropical seasons were quieter.
As for how the birds know what the weather will be months ahead of time? That is still a mystery.
Some theories are that the birds can sense atmospheric trends like the North Atlantic Oscillation, El Niño or La Niña. All are factors that can affect the hurricane season.
I find it amazing that these tiny birds seem to know months ahead of time what the weather will be. It reminds me of the power of nature and that there is still so much to discover.
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