Birds Can Predict Typhoons

Birds Can Predict Typhoons
Black-naped Tern

A recent report says that birds can predict typhoons. The Yamashina Institute for Ornithology published the results in Marine Biology, showing evidence that black-naped terns can predict typhoons and use that information to facilitate their migration.

Researchers attached tracking devices to the terns and studied how their migration departure varied with the presence of these huge storms. The birds would delay their departure when a massive typhoon was about to cross their projected path. Jean-Baptiste Thiebot, the lead author of the study, said, “They seem to be able to predict it.”

This ability gives the terns several advantages.
Avoiding extreme winds and rain is a good thing. Besides that, the storms churn up food to the ocean surface allowing the terns to stop periodically to eat on their journey. In 2017, when there were no typhoons in the study area, the birds delayed their trip much later and flew the journey without a stop.

Scientists are still studying how these birds can predict typhoons.
Some research suggests that they are equipped with infrasonic detectors that pick up weather signals. Researchers are also looking at the tern’s ability to recognize changing clouds.

In any case, it seems the birds are designed with an ability to use weather to facilitate their migration. Robert Gill, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, says, “They are able to predict better than the best weather forecasters we have.”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Scientific American, October 2020, page 24.