Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dean looks bad for humans and hummingbirds

Right this moment, I'm looking at on my computer, and seeing the image of a Category 5 hurricane just hitting the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, as I listen to the sounds of a few hummingbirds out my window. The Yucatan is where a lot of human beings live, and where some take vacations. It's also where virtually all our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds spend the winter.

Right now some adult males are already there, some may be striking out on the Gulf coast headed for there, and all the ones still in our backyards are headed in that general direction. The storm will undoubtedly kill some--anything that can rip apart a house isn't going to be very gentle to a bird that weighs one tenth of an ounce. Of course, birds can feel, literally in their bones but also in all their air sacs, the low barometric pressure associated with hurricanes, and except for exhausted birds flying over the Gulf, many will be able to stay ahead of the storm, which is only traveling 20 miles per hour right now, while hummingbirds have little trouble sustaining 30 mile per hour flight. So not all that many will be outright killed by the storm.

But as with all tremendous storms, this one will destroy habitat. Of course plants that hummingbirds depend on for food and shelter are being destroyed even as I type this. Also, when storms hit cities, lots of pollution enters the scene--from flooded automobiles and trucks, broken tanks filled with propane, gas, oil, and other toxins, etc.

The hurricane is already weakening over land--at this moment it's been downgraded to a Category 3. But once it gets back to the southern Bay of Campeche, it's expected to strengthen all over again before it hits land again in Veracruz.

It's exhausting keeping up with dangerous hurricanes, and people tend to adjust to an then to start filtering out bad news. Birds are going to be a minor concern in the face of human beings needing assistance. I'm not sure what we can do to help either from so far away--I feel pretty insignificant and helpless right now. But if anyone has suggestions, please post comments.