Lightning strikes seem quite fearful when you think about it, don’t they? These bolts can be harmful to humans and birds alike if stricken.
You must have heard of people being injured or dying (unfortunately) due to lightning bolts hitting them, but have you ever wondered: Do birds get struck by lightning as well? How often does that happen?
Yes, birds do get struck by lightning. But it’s not as frequent as you think. Birds usually do not travel during storms, but when they do, they can get hit by lightning bolts. During storms, birds typically find a good hiding spot, like bushes, trees, or tall grasses. If a bird is outside during storms, resting on an open tree branch, it can get hit by lightning and most likely die.
Keep reading the article as we explore various aspects of birds getting hit by lightning.
A Bird Getting Struck by Lightning Happens Rarely
You must be wondering how often birds get hit by lightning. To answer your question, birds are not struck by lightning every time a storm breaks.
This sort of mishap happens occasionally, most likely to occur during intense storms. Birds usually have innate defense mechanisms to avoid electrical hazards during flight. When a storm is brewing or is about to come, meteorologists often spot a sudden change in air pressure, and birds can sense this, too. Therefore, these avians can take shelter in a safe place before the storm begins.
The electrical field created before the storm is another thing birds can get a hunch of, warning them about the upcoming storm. They usually take shelter in high branches of trees, lay low on the ground within bushes, or hide in small cracks and crevices within trees.
Birds have quick reflexes and better navigational abilities; they can move swiftly even when the air is turbulent. Their specialized feathers and bones make them lightweight. This feature allows them to avoid potentially dangerous situations.
Another critical fact is that birds usually fly below the clouds, not above. Hence, they have less possibility of being hit by lightning compared to planes or high-rise structures above the cloud.
So, the key takeaway is that even though birds can get hit by lightning occasionally, they have their own mechanisms to avoid or reduce the impact.
Here Are Some Reports of Birds Getting Injured and Killed By Lightning
We have gathered a few reports on how lightning strikes hit birds previously and what eventually happened to those poor creatures.
50 Rare Species of Birds Killed By a Lightning Strike in UAE
Back in 2019, 50 rare bird species died, unfortunately, due to a lightning strike in Abu Dhabi. According to media reports, these birds were worth over 20 million dirhams and were winners in competitions. Hence, to their owner, they were more than the sum mentioned earlier. One of them was even worth more than 10 million dirhams. (Reports via NDTV)
Over 1,000 Birds Killed by Lightning in Missouri
On a fateful day in March 2020, the residents of Missouri woke up to find 1,000 dead birds everywhere with their feathers littered around. Among the killed or injured species, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, European starlings, and brown-headed cowbirds were to name a few.
Upon careful observation, the residents concluded that all these deaths had happened due to the weather conditions. Some residents even saw birds falling from high above in the sky and hit the ground. These birds could not protect themselves during the storm while flying, resulting in mass death. (Reports via CNN)
Lightning killed 50 Canadian Geese in the water
Veterinarians have stated lightning strikes have killed 50 Canadian geese who were found to be floating in the St. Lawrence River near Montreal in July 2018. Since all the deaths coincided, the possibility of disease outbreak or malnutrition can be ruled out.
Not every day you see such many birds dead, especially on water bodies, without any burns. This is because water acted as a medium for conducting electricity throughout the entire area. A video of this incident created quite a buzz on the internet during that time. (Reports via CBC)
What Happens If A Bird Gets Struck By Lightning?
Like humans or other creatures on the ground, birds are also susceptible to damage caused by lightning strikes. It’s not wise to think that only living beings can be affected by this dangerous natural incident. Ground-living animals and humans suffer the most, and the same thing happening to birds is rare, but it still happens.
Do you know how electricity always looks for the easiest way? That’s why lightning tends to strike tall things like buildings or big trees. It’s just following the path of least resistance. Now, imagine a bird just hanging out on one of those trees. If lightning hits, that poor bird might get caught in the current!
Sometimes, birds can also get hit by lightning bolts during mid-flight. The effect of these strikes depends on the situation. If a bird is hit mid-air while flying, there’s a high and immediate possibility of it dying. If a bird gets hit while sitting on a high tree branch or a building, it can still leave in a pretty much uninjured state since the current will travel all the way to the ground through that structure or tree.
So there’s always a possibility of injury in both cases; the bird can be burned, traumatized, or disoriented!
How Do Birds Avoid Being Hit By Lightning?
Birds have special adaptation techniques to avoid being hit by lightning. Some birds have evolved unique flight patterns and strategies to prevent dangerous outcomes during storms.
A few factors to be noted are size, migration patterns, and flight tactics.
- Size matters since smaller birds with short wings and heavy bodies often effectively withstand more vital wind forces and can move around in tight spaces. Some examples include sparrows and pigeons.
- Some birds migrate to avoid harsh weather conditions, while some choose to face the danger. In both cases, the birds face different roadblocks. For example, birds traveling to escape storms can suffer from fatigue or hunger during the long journey. On the other hand, birds facing storms can become injured or die from lightning. But if they survive or manage to dodge the dangers, this experience equips them with unique adaptation tactics.
- Flying strategies vary in each bird species. For example, albatrosses use wind currents to fly in this process, they save energy and avoid getting hit by lightning bolts. Hawks and eagles, on the other hand, soar high in the sky to monitor weather conditions and use strong winds for their own advantage.
Related Post: Can Birds Fly In The Rain?
Do Bird Nests Offer Any Protection From Lightning?
Nests are places where birds stay relatively protected. Birds usually build nests in areas where wind or lightning bolts during storms can not get easily. For example, nests on a tree typically remain anchored there.
In contrast, nests on buildings are usually built in places where any adverse natural forces can not affect the birds, tiny hatchlings, or eggs. So yes, the little nests or safe havens or birds often help to tuck themselves away in the face of dangerous natural events.
We hope you have answered your question on whether birds get hit by lightning. While it is a rare phenomenon, it can happen every once in a while. Like the few cases we have stated, there are some other cases worldwide, but their number is just a few.
Birds have their own natural mechanism to defend themselves against natural calamities, but it is still best to be cautious during such situations. Therefore, if you ever spot a bird in danger due to storms, try to help it out if possible.
FAQs About Do Birds Get Struck By Lightning
Do Birds Know A Storm Is Coming?
Birds can sense if a storm is coming by noticing the sudden change in temperature, air pressure, and humidity.
How Do Birds React When A Storm Is Coming?
Birds become more frantic and active when a storm is approaching. They tend to rapidly search for food or a safe place for shelter.
Are Birds Scared Of Lightning?
It’s unclear if birds experience fear like humans, but they might feel disdain towards lightning due to the sound and light it produces.
Where Do Birds Go During A Thunderstorm?
During thunderstorms, birds take shelter in trees, nests, bushes, or buildings.
Do Birds Fly In Thunderstorms?
Some birds fly for short distances if they are looking for food or shelter during thunderstorms.
How Often Do Birds Get Struck By Lightning?
Birds rarely get struck by lightning due to their size and the natural defense mechanism instilled within them.
Do Birds Die In Thunderstorms?
Some birds might die during thunderstorms, but the reason is not limited to lightning bolts.
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!