Birds are nature’s pro flyers. But what happens during a drizzle? Can birds fly in the rain as well?
Yes, birds can fly in the rain. Heavy rainfall can be potentially hazardous, while a light shower does not bother them. Birds may have difficulty navigating, be troubled by raindrops and strong winds, and be at risk of hypothermia, stress, and food scarcity. Birds, however, possess adaptive skills that can help them fly through intense rainfall when needed. Their watertight feathers, the shape of their wings, their unique talents to maneuver, and their special physical attributes all contribute to their survival.
Despite all these, they remain in secured refuge and only go out in dire need. Meanwhile, the opposite is true for birds like ducks and geese, who enjoy being in the rain.
Let’s delve deeper into why birds avoid flying in the rain, whereas some species consider it a pleasure. Together, we’ll explore bird behavior and how they cope during light and heavy rains.
How Do Birds Fly In The Rain?
Birds have developed adaptive strategies to cope with rainy conditions. The shapes of the wings allow air to trap underneath, which keeps the birds afloat. Moreover, they can change the angle of the wings to create additional lift.
Furthermore, most birds will dip their heads and fly close to the ground. Birds are also seen flying in zigzag patterns to avoid raindrops and turbulent air.
Can Birds Fly When Their Wings Are Wet?
Yes, birds can fly even if their wings are wet, but perhaps not effectively. Even though their wings are waterproof, flying becomes challenging as they become heavy, making them less aerodynamic.
When the wings are wet, the feathers get stuck together. This prevents the birds from flapping or generating lift. Nevertheless, some birds fly very well, even with wet wings. Ducks and geese are among them, who are found to swim and fly effortlessly during heavy rain. Even a heavy rain would have less effect on them.
Are Birds Or Their Feathers Waterproof?
While birds are not waterproof, their feathers are. For that, birds use oil from their preen glands. Birds will start the preening process by picking up the material on their beaks from the gland.
Next, they will gradually rub the oil against their feathers. This creates insulation in the interlocking parts, making the feathers watertight. Moreover, when preening, birds assist each other for an even application.
Also, the dusty powder in special feathers known as powderdowns can waterproof feathers. Moreover, some birds take advantage of their dense feathers to repel water.
How Do Light And Heavy Rain Affect Birds?
While light rains may not adversely affect birds, heavy rains will. Let’s discover how these rain conditions affect food search, shelter seeking, flying, and more.
Light rain doesn’t stop birds from going out; they forage like they usually do. However, it becomes difficult during heavy downpours. If it rains for several days, birds may face potential starvation. Nevertheless, since birds can sense changes in air pressure, they may try to forage food in advance.
Birds primarily seek refuge during heavy rainfall. They find shelters in dense shrubs, thickets, tree trunks, and downwind areas.
Large birds such as gulls, hawks, pigeons, or herons seem to stay still and wait, whereas small songbirds occur in overhanging branches and leaning trees.
Birds would use additional leaves and branches to prevent nest damage. Moreover, parent birds will keep the nesting birds warm and protected by spreading their wings and keeping them under their chest.
Birds usually fly without hesitation in light rain. However, heavy rain for them is pretty stressful, despite their adaptive skills. They would only take small flights in need.
The wings help them stay afloat. They will keep their heads down and fly low or sometimes haphazardly to avoid raindrops.
During light and heavy showers, birds fluff their feathers to stay warm. Furthermore, they make feathers watertight by flattening down feathers and through continuous preening.
Unless the weather is too inconvenient for birds, rain only may not compel birds to migrate. For example, Florida is a heavy rain state during summer. However, the climate is conducive to the shore and waterbirds. Therefore, the birds do not need to migrate despite the heavy downpours.
What kind of birds can fly well in the rain?
Not all birds will fly well in the rain. While some birds, such as ducks, enjoy flying in the shower, others, such as small birds, may not.
Waterfowl like ducks, geese, swans, and gulls usually prefer swimming and flying in rain. However, they need to take a break when their wings get heavy.
Swifts And Swallows
The long and narrow wings of swifts and swallows help them easily glide and change direction.
Pigeons And Doves
The feathers of pigeons and doves are designed to shed water quickly. Their short and broad wings also help them generate lift in strong winds.
The webbed feet of gulls allow them to paddle easily over water. Moreover, they can stay aloft in adverse rainy conditions with solid wings and wide wingspan.
Petrels and Albatrosses
The long, pointed wings of the petrels and albatrosses help them cut through the air effortlessly.
They do their usual hunting in light rain but are less active in heavy rain. So they may not be the best fliers during a heavy pour.
Where Do Birds Go In The Rain?
Depending on the severity of the rain and species, the birds will go to various places. To begin with, water-loving birds love swimming in the rain but eventually may find shelter in bushes.
Species like robins and sparrows often occur in small spaces, bushes and shrubs, and under eaves nearby. Meanwhile, large birds usually inhabit the outdoors, flying in small flights in light rain or sitting still during heavy storms.
How do Birds Keep Warm and dry?
Birds keep themselves dry and warm using several strategies. Firstly, they will flatten and flap their feathers to keep the water away.
Also, most birds produce oil to keep their feathers watertight. However, if the birds are caught in prolonged rain, they may risk hypothermia. They, therefore, stay within shelter till the storm lasts.
Secondly, birds can trap warm air within their feathers. Besides, they stand upright with their beaks toward the rain to have less contact with rainwater and conserve energy. (conservationcatalyst.org)
Finally, birds tend to form a huddle to reduce splash contacts and thus stay warm. Besides, some birds, such as hummingbirds or chickadees, can regulate their body temperatures to adapt to cold and wet conditions.
Do All Birds Fly in the Rain?
Yes, birds capable of flying can undoubtedly fly in the rain. However, skills may vary depending on the species. For instance, unlike ducks and geese, which prefer washing in the shower for extended periods, most small to big birds avoid heavy rain.
Moreover, some birds are stronger fliers than others, whereas others, such as songbirds, may find it challenging to fly during heavy drizzle.
What Do Birds Do When It Rains?
Birds are not affected by light rain. Hence, they would wander about as usual. Heavy rain and strong winds, however, require them to settle. In short, birds do the following when it rains:
- Birds seek shelter in trees, bushes, and foliage to stay dry.
- They keep themselves warm by fluffing or trapping heat within feathers or regulating their body temperature.
- Birds typically make small flights when necessary.
- They will create a safe environment for their young.
Are Baby Birds Safe in the Rain?
Fledgling is considered safe in the rain, while nestlings and hatchlings are not. Aside from building a secure nest, parent birds help their babies by tucking them under their breasts and covering them with their bodies and wings. It keeps them warm and protected from raindrops.
Some examples of safe nests are holes in trees, crevices in cliffs, dense foliage, and gaps in walls and buildings.
Some Birdwatching Tips for Rainy Days
These tips may help if you plan to go birdwatching in the rain.
- To stay dry and comfortable, wear waterproof clothing and footwear.
- Invest in quality binoculars that won’t get damaged by rainwater.
- Carry waterproof cases, backpacks, umbrellas, or portable rain shelters to protect gear from moisture damage.
- Decide the type of birds you want to see. You may find rain-loving birds like seabirds flying about or small songbirds huddled at their secured refuge.
So we clearly know that birds can fly during the rain. They have adapted skills to move around in rainy weather. As for light rain, it could be more concerning. Nevertheless, waterproof feathers, special features in wings, flying techniques, and distinctive physical aspects equipped them to navigate through heavy rains and winds.
Even so, birds choose to stay in a safe shelter as flying can be stressful and potentially dangerous. They would only come out in desperate situations.
I’m Shajid Rahman, founder of Birding Outside. I share my birding knowledge through my website to help others learn about birds. I use simple language so it’s easy to understand. My goal is to get more people excited about birds like I am by teaching about these special creatures. I want to spread bird love!