What do birds do in wet weather?

What do birds do in wet weather?

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This winter has certainly been a wet one. Record levels of rainfall left parts of the country literally underwater over the Christmas period and it will take some time before communities are fully recovered from the impact of the floods. 

Such severe weather has obviously been devastating for the people affected, but what does it mean for Britain's birds? We take a look below. 

Getting by

It goes without saying that the UK's birds are used to living with rain. In general, normal levels of rain don't have a great impact on bird activity. Most species will continue to go about their business in light rain, but will take shelter during a heavy downpour and wait for it to pass. Rain can actually be useful for some birds, such as thrushes and Blackbirds, as it brings out sources of food like slugs and snails and can drive worms up to the surface. 

However, birds can start to encounter problems when rainfall becomes severe and goes beyond normal levels. Persistent heavy rain can lead to food, such as insects, becoming difficult to find, while in the winter months, getting wet can make it much harder for birds to stay warm, particularly small species. Indeed, wet feathers can be troublesome for a number of reasons. Owls, for example, have particularly delicate plumage and it becomes impossible to fly when their feathers are waterlogged. 

It's not just in winter when rain can cause problems. According to the British Trust for Ornithology, the cool wet weather experienced in spring and summer 2015 meant many species, particularity in the north of the UK, struggled to breed.

Sparrow Pond

Flood problems

Flooding provides difficulty for birds. If a bird suddenly finds its territory is underwater, it naturally has to work harder to find food. Even species that are adapted to an aquatic lifestyle can struggle when the weather gets extreme. Fish eaters such as herons and Kingfishers can find it hard to locate prey when rivers are deeper and flowing faster than usual, while seabirds can struggle to cope with severe storms. 

Perhaps the only birds that seem unaffected by flooding and extreme rain are waterfowl such as ducks and geese. Perfectly adapted to life on the water, these species actually benefit from increased habitats during flooding and are able to leave deeper water behind and take advantage of opportunities in newly flooded areas. Wading birds can benefit too, finding new sources of food in and around flood water. 

How can you help?

So, what can you do to help birds make it through the wet winter? Putting out a regular supply of food can make all the difference in tough conditions and, in some cases, could even be the extra boost that ensures birds make it through to spring. Installing nest boxes also helps by providing birds with a dry place to take shelter from the rain and offers the added bonus of giving them a place to raise their young in spring.