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.


  1. It has been over a week now that Hurricane Dean wreaked havoc on the Yucatan Peninsula and we folks in northern Belize experienced the storm as well. Living on Ambergris Caye, which is the southern most tip of the peninsula, there are resident Cinnamon Hummingbirds that frequent hibiscus flowers and nectar feeders. Since the hurricane I have not seen a single hummer and worry that they did not weather the storm. Any idea how they might have found shelter or where they might be? Will they return to “La Isla Bonita?” I sure miss them! 

  2. Wow--what a sad thing! After a storm is when we seem to MOST need to see birds for our own peace of mind. Very often as birds feel the barometric pressure go down, they get restless--feeding more and sometimes getting on the move. I'm hoping your hummingbirds traveled ahead of the storm and will quickly come back. If the worst happened and they were killed, it may take months for new individuals to colonize your area, but that should happen eventually. I'm really sorry. Cinnamon Hummingbirds are beautiful, and make us humans feel happy just to see them.