Can birds sense incoming storms?

   One of the facts about scientific research is that many times the answer that is being specifically sought goes undiscovered, and a quite unintended discovery is made instead. Such was an interesting case in 2013 concerning birds and storms. Last year while researchers were investigating whether or not Golden-Winged Warblers would be able to carry small geolocators, the scientists discovered something quite intiguing and altogether unexpected.

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Storm Supercell

   Deep in the Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee, where the target species breeds, a phenomenal mass migration was documented using the geolocators, which as it turns out (and as you may have guessed), the warblers were able carry. No sooner than they had arrived at their annual breeding grounds located in the eastern portion of the state, the Golden-Crowned Warblers took a five-day, 932 mile trip out of their breeding grounds to avoid a major storm brewing in the area.

  "The most curious finding is that the birds left long before the storm arrived. At the same time that meteorologists on The Weather Channel were telling us this storm was headed in our direction, the birds were apparently already packing their bags and evacuating the area." says Henry Streby of the University of California, Berkeley.

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Golden-Winged Warblers

   According to Streby, the birds left over 24 hours before the storms broke over the area. Researchers believe that the birds knew about the storm in advance by hearing the infrasound associated with storms that is at too low a level for humans to detect, but that the birds can likely hear.

  "Meteorologists and physicists have known for decades that tornadic storms make very strong infrasound that can travel thousands of kilometers from the storm," Streby says, noting that the infrasound is at the same frequency that is most sensative to bird ears.

   In the future, Streby plans on putting many geolocators on Golden-Winged Warblers, hoping to find out more about their migration patterns and habits.

  "I can't say I'm hoping for another severe tornado outbreak, but I am eager to see what unpredictable things happen this time." Streby concluded.