Tornadoes are one of nature’s worst destroyers. They tend to build up quickly, and are known for their erratic pattern. However, scientists feel they are close to deciphering a method to predict their path. They are basing their findings on songbirds.
A massive thunderstorm in the month of April gave birth to a whole army of killer tornadoes that wreaked havoc through the central and southern United States. Eighty-four of these destroyers reduced homes and buildings to rubble in mere days, causing damage of more than billion dollars, spread across 17 states. Though only 35 people lost their lives, these tornadoes strongly reminded us about the scathing power of nature.
However, through the devastation, scientists observed a very peculiar event that took place just a couple of days prior: large swath of songbirds fled the area en masse. Despite just completing a grueling 1,500-mile migration to Tennessee, hundreds of golden-winged warblers simply abandoned their nestling grounds and suddenly went to on an equally brutal 900-mile exodus to Florida and Cuba, reported Newser.
Just when the songbirds were leaving the area, the storm was somewhere between 250 and 560 miles away. Moreover, the tornadoes weren’t even formed yet. Somehow, the songbirds were acutely aware about the impending formation of tornadoes, said Henry Streby, a population ecologist from the University of California, Berkeley.
“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.”
Henry and his team had been engrossed in plotting and studying the songbirds’ migratory patterns. when they made their amazing discovery into the birds’ ability to sense the arrival of tornadoes and the necessary steps they take to avoid being in the middle of it.
During the study, Henry’s team was exploring the possibility of these songbirds carrying geo-locators over long distances to more accurately plot their migratory patterns. Having successfully retrieved data from five of the 20 tagged birds, the team noticed the songbirds were nowhere near the path they’d expected. Not able to understand the reason behind the birds undertaking another grueling hike just after completing one, the team began to monitor local weather and realized that the dates the songbirds broke the pattern, coincided with the beginnings of the storm, reported Current Biology.
The scientists are now confident the songbirds made their “evacuation migration” because their keen sense of hearing alerted them to the incoming natural disaster. According to Henry, huge tornado-spewing storms produce infrasound, or noises at frequencies below 20 hertz that travel for thousands of miles. Though it is too low for humans to hear, songbirds can pick-up these sounds and choose to act accordingly to get out of harm’s way. Previous research has proven that pigeons use infrasound to help them navigate, so it is only natural for the songbirds to be able to sense impending trouble.
[Image Credit | Habitat, AP]