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I was reading a comic from XKCD which inspired me to ask this question: "well, where do they go when it rains?" I know that when it rains you usually don't see any birds flying through the sky.

I imagine they normally hide in trees or under other kinds of cover. But for migratory birds, I don't think it is possible to hiding under cover until the rain passes. There might not be any cover (trekking across seas) or it might stay rainy for a very long time (and therefore cold...).


I did some research, but the answers are conflicting. Some people say they do stay in trees, others say they AVOID trees (because trees can snap in a storm, plus if there's lightning then sitting in a tree will net fried birds). Then there's people saying that birds have a waterproof coating... but that's a bit contradictory with me not seeing birds when it rains.

So where do birds go when it rains?

I assume that different bird species and groups of birds will behave in different ways. I am interested in the case of migratory birds because they are likely to encounter different climates and have perhaps devised strategies to be safe. I would appreciate any well-referenced examples.

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    $\begingroup$ Quick point, all birds aren't likely to do the same thing. A duck, an ostrich, a pigeon, and an hawk are likely to have different reactions. Example, pigeons are known to rain bathe on the ground. Would examples for common flocking birds of US cities be sufficient? $\endgroup$ – Atl LED Oct 16 '14 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ @AtlLED I'm interested in trekking birds specifically. Birds in forests or urban regions have plenty of shelter, so I'd expect the obvious answer of "they get out of the rain and under the treetops/rooftops". But there's no shelter when you're trekking... I live in Europe and I don't know enough about birds to tell you what types they have here (sure we have geese, ducks, pidgeons, owls and hawks). If you NEED a focus, european "urban" trekking birds would be it. $\endgroup$ – Pimgd Oct 16 '14 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ Examples of specific birds are also welcome as I can see each bird having its own strategy. $\endgroup$ – Pimgd Oct 16 '14 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ Nominating to reopen, since nobody has stated clearly in the comments why it should be closed as opinion-based. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Oct 21 '14 at 10:07
  • $\begingroup$ Also see discussion in Meta. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jan 14 '15 at 13:02
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Obviously, as you point out, some birds, such as waterbirds (ducks, puffins, auks, sandpipers) are perfectly fine in the rain, as they spend much of their time in the water anyhow and have oil glands that waterproof their feathers.

For other birds, rain can increase heat loss. For instance, rain increases metabolism by up to 22% in eagles (Stalmaster & Gessaman, 1984), although the actual impact on average daily metabolism was 'negligible'. However, eagles were able to feed their offspring only half as much, and therefore had only half as many eaglets, when it rained (Elliott et al., 2005). (On the other hand, the authors point out that in the Tropics, eagles actually do better when it rains because there is more food available).

Migrating birds stop migrating, hide where they can, and wait until it dries up before they continue (Erdi et al, 2002); those that don't, often end up far away from where they should be and, eventually, dead. In short, some birds don't mind the rain (e.g. seabirds), others sit it out in misery (e.g. nesting eagles) and others hunker down wherever they can find shelter (e.g. migrating birds).

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting. Have there been cases of significant reductions in bird numbers because of a heavy storm during migration season? $\endgroup$ – Pimgd Oct 27 '14 at 14:26
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Birds can easily cover enough distance flying that they can avoid short showers entirely by not sitting right below clouds, unless they have an actual reason to stick around. Birds move around a lot more than we do.

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    $\begingroup$ I've frequently seen rain clouds on weather radars that cover quite a big area. How do they dodge these? $\endgroup$ – Pimgd Oct 17 '14 at 7:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Pimgd presumably most clouds can't move faster than birds since they can ride the same currents. So to avoid big clouds the birds could fly with (or alongside or in front of) the cloud. This would help explain Kyle's answer on why the ones that continue flying end up far away: staying out of the cloud forces them to fly off course. $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev Nov 1 '14 at 15:19

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