The path of Hurricane Hermine seems ideal for birders looking to discover birds far removed from their normal range.  As it moved through the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico the eye of the storm trapped thousands of birds that were then forced far north of their normal range.

As birds encounter rotating hurricane force winds they sometimes spiral inward into the eye of the hurricane.  The relative calm of the eye seems like a safe haven compared to the powerful winds outside the eye.  Many birds will find it easier to move with the eye of the hurricane than to try to force their way out.  As a hurricane moves inland, the winds diminish and the birds can escape the storm.

It is this forced movement of birds trapped in the eye of the storm that excites birders as they search for species well out of their normal range. Some birders will brave hurricane force winds in hopes of seeing a rare bird; perhaps adding a new species to the official state list or a new species for their own life list.

As Hurricane Hermine moved northward along the eastern coast,  it began to weaken and thousands of birds had the opportunity to escape.  Many may have been sea birds from the Caribbean, such as the Brown Noddy (a type of term) that is sometimes reported along the eastern coast after hurricanes.  The Brown Noddy is normally found in the Dry Tortugas and other Caribbean Islands.

Brown Noddy in flight

Brown Noddy

In September of 2008 I observed a Magnificent Frigatebird near Ithaca, New York, no doubt carried north by the winds of Hurricane Ike.  The Magnificent Frigatebird is a rare summer visitor to the Gulf Coast and east coast of Florida.  As with this sighting, it is sometimes driven inland by storms.

Magnificent Frigatbird in flight

Magnificent Frigatbird

Bad for the birds:
During September millions of songbirds are migrating south for the winter.  Some larger shorebirds may be able to fly through a hurricane but smaller birds, such as warblers and tanagers, are no match for a hurricane and are no doubt lost at sea.   Hurricanes can also damage prime nesting locations.

Birds moved by the hurricane may remain out of their normal range for several days.  Gulls and terns are powerful fliers with good homing instincts. They will have a good chance to make their way back to their normal, seasonal home.  Smaller birds that were migrating south may not have the energy to repeat their earlier migration path.

Weather radar:
In recent years weather radar has been used to locate and even monitor the movement of migrating birds.  Weatherman Brad Panovich posted this picture showing thousands of birds trapped in the eye of Hurricane Hermine.

Radar image of Birds trapped in eye of a Hurricane.

Birds trapped in eye of Hurricane Hermine.

There is now a lot of online information on the use of radar to track bird migration.  Three of the best are:

Badbirdz Reloaded
Clemson University

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