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The Green Life: After the Storm, a Bird-Watching Bonanza

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September 02, 2011

After the Storm, a Bird-Watching Bonanza

Ibis Avian enthusiasts have long had to defend the claim that bird-watching is fun. But yawning outdoor adventurers who call bird-watching boring should know: Birders are as hard-core as they come: When big storms like Hurricane Irene come spinning up the Atlantic seaboard, birdwatchers grab their binoculars and hunker down, hoping to catch glimpses of rare birds lofted up from the tropics by the swirling winds.

And while heading out into 100-mile-per-hour winds to look for birds is a great way to get yourself into a mental institution (or worse), post-hurricane bird-watching lets birders enjoy and photograph Caribbean species that would usually require a flight or a zoo ticket to see. Imagine standing in New Jersey surveying a bland landscape of post-hurricane debris, only to glimpse a fluorescent Cuban Tody.

Many of these winged refugees are able to regain their bearings and head homeward, but not all of them. Though bird-watchers delight in the avian afterparty that follows a hurricane, it's obviously better if fewer birds are displaced.

Thankfully, preserving more bird habitats not only sustains healthier populations, it also helps reduce the effects of large storms. When a hurricane starts brewing, barometric pressure drops and birds, sensing the shift, head for safety -- shorebirds, for example, will fly inland looking for branches to cling onto. If woodlands are replaced by cities, however, the birds are out of luck. That’s an especially iffy situation for endangered bird species with low population numbers, since even a quick storm can have long-lasting effects.

Moved to help? The Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds is the foremost group working to restore bird habitats in the Gulf of Mexico. The Audubon Society also works on conservation programs for Caribbean species.

--Colin Griffin

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