Where do birds go when it rains?

The end of July somewhat marks the middle of the south-west monsoons for India. The western coast of the country have rainy spells which many associate with gloomy days. One cannot get much done when it rains in Mumbai. It doesn’t drizzle. It pours! All we want is to snuggle under our blankets with a hot cup of coffee. But nothing beats watching out the window for birds, while you sip that coffee!

Monsoons bring in a lot of local change in the environment. The cloud cover becomes dense and the days seem to get dark.

Image: The city scapes turn to a mix of green and grey

Sometimes harsh winds accompany the rains. And let us admit, we don’t see as many birds out in the open as we see in the summer. So what do the birds do during rains? Where do they go? Well, there is no short answer to this question, because it comes down to what kind of birds we are talking about. Depending on their size, habitat, prey (food), birds exhibit a variety of behaviours during rainy spells.

One interesting aspect is that most birds are fairly “waterproof’. Their feathers are covered with water-repellent oils from the preening gland. Birds preen all year to keep their feathers in good condition. This act of preening keeps feathers clean, parasite-free, and also helps to maintain the “water proofing” feature of the feathers. But still, we see only few birds in the open.

Rainfall is also associated with a drop in temperature. And it is important for a bird to maintain its core body temperature during colder weather conditions. In order to do this, they need to conserve energy. Thus, it seems only viable that they wait out during thunderstorms and heavy rains. So a lot birds seek shelter when it rains heavily. At times, they stay close to the main trunk of a tree or at other times, some (like ground birds) may hide under thickets of bushes or low perches which have thick leaf cover on top.

Image: An oil-soaked Kentish Plover drenched in the rain. This image was taken after the disastrous oil spill that took place off the coast of Mumbai in August 2010.
(Courtesy: Ashwin Mohan)

Water birds like herons, ducks may stay out in the open or close to the reeds and bushes that line the ponds and lakes. Some birds may choose to take shelter in tree cavities. Waders may remain out on the sea shores.

In urban areas, we see birds like Pigeons, Kites, Mynas and Crows taking shelter on building parapets, chhajjas, open sheds, exhaust fans, AC outdoor unit holder etc.

Image: A wet Black Kite drying itself

Smaller birds like Oriental Magpie Robin, Red-whiskered Bulbul and Red-vented Bulbuls are also seen sitting in the thickets with their feathers all puffed up, which makes them look fat.

Image: The otherwise slim Red-whiskered bulbul on a Golden Champa tree (Magnolia champaca), just after rains stopped.

This behaviour helps to conserve heat as the air trapped in the layers of feathers provide insulation and warmth.

For some birds, rains are a time to feed! Birds like House Mynas take advantage of light rains, feeding on open grounds where worms come out. Monsoons are also a breeding time for many species. So even though we may not spot the birds, we hear their calls and songs. Birds like Scaly breasted Munias carry nesting material even during light showers.

The main reason why birds don’t stay out for extended periods in the heavy rains is because their water-repellent coating is not permanent. If feathers do get wet, it may lead to detrimental effects.

But that didn’t seem to stop the parakeets though! I have observed parakeets get wet in the rains and remain out for a few hours! Check out this one minute video of this group of Rose-ringed parakeets sitting on the top canopy of a Rain Tree (Samanea saman), enjoying the rains!

Video: Can you guess how many parakeets are there on the tree? (Earthly Notes YouTube Channel)

In fact, it almost seems like they are dozing off in the rain as the gentle wind sways the branches they are sitting on!

Image: Enjoying the raindrops on your face

Anyways, next time it gets cloudy and rainy, do keep an eye out for birds as well. They may exhibit some different behaviours! And if you do not spot many birds, don’t worry, that’s just a temporary phase. Once the sun is out, birds will be out again filling the skies with their melodious chatter!

Nature Observations

Earthly Notes View All →

My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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