Day Before Tornado, Wily Songbirds Knew

First-of-its-kind study: Warblers may use infrasound to evade storms
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 19, 2014 10:53 AM CST
Day Before Tornado, Wily Songbirds Knew
This Sept. 23, 2010, file photo shows a yellow-rumped warbler on the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque, NM.   (AP Photo/Albuquerque Journal, Dean Hanson, File)

Days after five tiny golden-winged warblers finished their seasonal migration, flying 3,100 miles from Colombia to Tennessee, they vacated their new home to travel 400 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico. Some 24 hours later, on April 27, 2014, at least 84 tornadoes left a path of death and destruction throughout the central and southeastern US, the BBC reports. The birds' flight was no coincidence, say researchers, who suspect the birds' low-frequency hearing allowed them to pick up infrasound waves from a storm that was 560 miles away when they fled; they left before changes in barometric pressure, wind speeds, or precipitation registered, the Guardian reports. By May 2, the birds had all returned.

Some 20 warblers were tagged in May 2013 before they flew to Colombia; roughly half returned to the US. Researchers were only able to capture five. "The fact that they came back with the geolocators was supposed to be the great success of this season," says a researcher. "Then this happened!" An expert adds, "It's very unlikely that this species is the only group doing this." And the study indicates birds may be able to make quick and "dramatic" movements to cope with the "predicted increase in severity and frequency of similar storms" brought on by climate change, even after having just completed a long journey, says David Andersen, who was part of the study published in Current Biology. But an ecologist not associated with the study advises that the findings be taken with a grain of salt, as the geolocators gauged location based on light readings rather than satellites. (Find out how birds stopped growing teeth.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.