Avian Expert Articles

Cyclone’s Affect On Migratory Birds

satellite view of Cyclone Marcus
Cyclone Marcus reached Category 5 strength. NASA

Bad weather can detrimentally impact many things. Among them, lives of people and creatures unfortunate to not be able to escape the pathways of such storms — homes and businesses, and a host of other things. One of the “other things” is something that many of us may not think of as being impacted is the ability to properly follow a path of migration for birds in flight. Fortunately, there are those who keep that very thing in mind if a storm of great strength should arise. A storm could heavily disrupt the migration of birds leading them off course and potentially create a situation that could be catastrophic to a flock.

On March 15, 2018, a tropical storm began forming in the Northern Territories of Australia. By March 1, it was designated a Category 2 tropical cyclone, and by March 21, the storm was a full-blown Category 5. It was named Cyclone Marcus. For the Northern Territories, this cyclone was the worst experienced since 1974, when Cyclone Tracy wreaked extreme havoc in the area as a Category 4. Currently, Cyclone Marcus is ranked as the ninth worst Australian cyclone in record keeping history. At its peak, Cyclone Marcus generated wind speeds of 185 MPH. That will disrupt many things, including an important path of migration.

Storm Brings Unusual Arrivals

After the storm subsided, a dedicated collection of birdwatchers and enthusiasts set up in areas where sightings of unusual arrivals can alert scientists to migratory disruptions due to Marcus. The main focus of these enthusiasts is to be mindful of rare birds that are seen. In the aftermath of Cyclone Marcus, there have been sightings of birds that should not be seen. Birds like the white-throated needletail have been spotted although none have previously been seen in the Northern Territories since 2005. Broome Bird Observatory is listing daily sightings of birds on a page (here) within their website until such sightings eventually stop.

There is also a threat of danger to the lives of some birds as they become fatigued, starved, and otherwise hurt by the storm during their migratory flights. As they are disabled, bird watchers capture them to turn them into the hands of able caregivers. The distressed birds are then nurtured back to health, and then released to return to the path it originally intended to follow.

As time progresses, the increase of dedicated people with the interest of healthy and sustained birds — and other creatures — have become essential to the well-being of our wildlife who we share our small world with. When potential catastrophic events like Cyclone Marcus forms requiring our immediate attention, it’s wonderful to realize that we have such humanity capable of good things to help maintain ecological order.

I am thankful for the many involved people who have helped (and still are actively involved) during the aftermath of this storm.

Subscribe to our newsletter