shorebird ecology

the impact of hurricanes on shorebirds

The path of Hurricane Earl  might threaten an enormous number of coastal communities but it has already caused serious problems for migrating shorebirds.  This month we will publish a paper on the results of our work with light-sensitive geolocators on shorebirds.  Three geolocators were recovered from red knots this May (covered in this blog) providing the first year-long migratory tracks ever recorded for these birds.  The tracks provided a great deal of new information on migratory routes and stopovers, wintering and breeding areas, but they also point to the hazards of flying across the Atlantic and Carribean in Hurricane season.  Two of the three birds encountered weather so severe they had to backtrack or extend thier flight by over 1,000 km to avoid storms at sea.

 Red knot with Geolocator

That was last August and September.  Now red knots and other shorebirds are heading south again and are flying into a world of pain.   At this moment there are three named storms and two unnamed depressions swirling around in the Atlantic and Carribean.   To help understand the danger they face, I plotted the southbound flights of our three intrepid travelers from last year onto a google earth map of the tracks of Hurricane Danielle, Earl and tropical storm Fiona, and as-yet-unnamed tropical depressions.   All three birds would have encountered these storms if they left at the same time as they did last year.  Whole flocks could be lost at sea.  Although these birds survived last year’s storms, they might not be that lucky this year.   

 The tracks of three red knots in 2009 superimposed on the tracks of the hurricanes and tropical storm active now in the Atlantic and Carribean. Bird Y0U and Bird IVL flew over 1000 km out of the way of tropical storms in 2009.